Say this for producer Jerry Bruckheimer: He seems to recognize that an assemblage of cutscenes and gameplay simulation from the popular Prince Of Persia videogame series wouldn’t make a good movie, any more than a theme-park ride like Pirates Of The Caribbean could be the stuff of a mythology-packed, three-film seafaring epic. For Prince Of Persia: The Sands Of Time, Bruckheimer, director Mike Newell, and their screenwriting team (including game series creator Jordan Mechner) pluck a few basic elements from the game—the scrappy, acrobatic hero; the golden-hued 6th-century Persian Empire setting; a magical dagger that allows its user to reverse time; some mystical gobbledygook about special sands that go into the dagger—and fill out the rest with the reliable stock elements of a sword-and-sandal adventure. Spinning a handsome Disney adventure out of a videogame is a testament to Bruckheimer’s commercial savvy. The fact that it still isn’t particularly good seems beside the point.
With his wavering British accent and $200 million abs, Jake Gyllenhaal is about as authentically Persian as Charlton Heston was a Mexican in Touch Of Evil, but he certainly cuts a good figure, and cinematographer John Seale, who won an Oscar for The English Patient, flatters him in every shot. Taken off the streets as a young orphan, Gyllenhaal grows up as one of the king’s three sons. After he and his brothers lead an invasion of another kingdom under false pretenses—the period equivalent to searching for WMD—and he’s exiled for treason, Gyllenhaal teams up with a feisty princess (Gemma Arterton) to protect “The Dagger Of Time,” prevent a world-consuming sandstorm, and unmask the man responsible for all this treachery.
The chief appeal of the Prince Of Persia platform games is the hero’s nimble wall-climbing and building-jumping—parkour, 15 centuries before it had a name—but beyond a few zippy chase sequences and the time-reversing trick, Bruckheimer mostly recasts Pirates Of The Caribbean (with a touch of National Treasure) for another setting. He even brings in Alfred Molina as a loveable rogue of the Captain Jack school. But Prince Of Persia is a thin, witless, generic adventure, with baffling mythology, cheesy CGI, and a heroine whose regal petulance often recalls Daphne Zuniga in Spaceballs. Give the filmmakers credit for sidestepping the pitfalls of videogame adaptation, but getting around the problem isn’t the same thing as solving it.