Jake Gyllenhaal in an action film that doesn’t involve him running from unpredictable weather? A Gemma Arterton vehicle that’s sympathetic to her natural ability to look good in very little? Based on a video game but with the wily casting of indie-boy Gyllenhaal, Prince of Persia looked to be a dead-cert crowd pleaser.
Dastan was an orphan on the streets of Persia when his bravery caught the eye of the king, who, despite already having two sons, decided that God also wanted him to adopt.
So it’s from one jump ahead of the breadline to dressing like a prince. All he needs now is a tiny fez and a waistcoat that’s had one too many rounds with a tumble drier.
Skip ahead a few years and the one-time street rat (Jake Gyllenhaal in a wig) is still more at home in fistfights than starting wars, as his two older brothers are currently busy doing over some weaponry that may or may not exist. If this sounds like a political commentary circa 2001, it isn’t. Despite reservations, Dastan’s soon drawn in and playing hero thanks to his uncle Nizam’s encouragement (Sir Ben Kingsley, hamming it up). His jealous brothers can only watch as the dashing Dastan scales castle walls like a spider and spins swords like someone using battle cheat codes, and still has the gall to act all smug about it.
After killing a few innocent civilians, stealing what turns out to be The Dagger of Time and snatching the beautiful princess Tamina (Gemma Arterton) away from her prayers and people, he’s home just in time to be framed for his father’s murder. Dastan and the princess go on the run into the deserts, where they find sexual chemistry, Alfred Molina and uncover a plot to use The Dagger of Time to generate a sandstorm big enough to end the whole world. Looks like Gyllenhaal will be running from unpredictable weather after all.
Directed by Mike Newell (director of one of the better Harry Potter films, Goblet of Fire) and penned in part by one of the video game writers, Prince of Persia is set in Disney’s version of Asia. This means cockney accents and princesses that wear expertly arranged bits of cloth and very little else. This is fantasy Asia, Fant-Asia, if you will, and no one involved has spared too much thought for actual fact. By no one, that is to say Jerry Bruckheimer.
National Treasure, Pirates of the Caribbean, Pearl Harbour, Armageddon. Being produced by Bruckheimer is the film equivalent of someone shaking you violently whilst shouting Bang! Bang! Bang! in your face and alternating between shining a strobe light in your eyes and telling you that they love you, the tragic twist being that just as you’re beginning to find all of this rather irritating they break the news of their imminent demise by terminal illness/ war/ pirates. It’s like someone once told Bruckheimer that an audience is unable to pay attention to the screen unless something is exploding, on fire or declaring undying love, preferably at the same time.
Gyllenhaal may have trained for months to get his chest looking so pert and ready for action, but as roles go, this isn’t his most testing. To give him credit he looks like he had a bloody good time, despite having to wear hair beads, and he does get to kick a lot of Hassansin ass and walk away from explosions without looking back at them. But even the doe-eyed Gyllenhaal can’t pull off a line like “Don’t cut yourself” as he hands the princess back her own dagger without sounding like a complete nob.
Gemma Arterton has recently pulled off one of her most career-defining roles to date. Which she then followed with the role of princess Tamina, whose only function in this film appears to be to wear the slave girl disguise Dastan happens to have lying around whenever they need to blend into a crowd. As always, she’s lovely to look at, but she’s perfunctory at best. Proof of her acting ability lies in the unforgiving Disappearance of Alice Creed. You wouldn’t catch princess Tamina relieving herself in a bucket.
The most disappointing aspect of this film isn’t even that The Dagger of Time, despite its impressive capitals, only has the capacity for 60 seconds time travel. It’s that its limited supply of magic sand was never used for anything exciting. A mere flesh wound, a minor snake attack. Surely these were just a waste of the dagger’s true potential? A minute can go a long way; it could have been used to save one of the many lives lost during this film, or, more likely, for a quickie with Gemma Arterton’s Tamina.
12-year-old boys might find it appealing, gamers might like the bit where Gyllenhaal does the thing with the knives and who doesn’t like Gemma Arterton since her stint as the leather collared head girl of St Trinian’s? But if it’s story, dialogue or fulfilment you’re after, this is 116 minutes you’re never getting back, not for all the sand in Fant-Asia.