Re:View – ‘Prince Of Persia – The Sands Of Time
You know you’re in trouble when Ben Kingsley, all kohl-blacked eyes and vizir robes, appears as the oleaginous king’s advisor with ‘Villain’ virtually tattooed on his forehead. We’re in Persia, not the real Persia of the Ottoman empire but a videogame-derived Kismet-land of vague Middle-Easterness, which means minarets, sand, snakes and temples of the sub-Indiana Jones variety. Jake Gyllenhaal does the heavy lifting (and running and jumping) here, with Gemma Arterton essaying another haughty princess, the kind who can disguise herself in a market by holding a scarf across the lower half of her face. After the first few incomprehensible minutes of vaguely historical guff we hit the plot McGuffin – a glowing sword that can turn back time when filled with sand from a sacred mount – thereafter various folk fight to get it.
There are plenty of sword-fights and lots of sand – storms and avalanches of the stuff – but it never stains anyone’s clothes or gets in their eyes. The fights are step-framed, slo-mo’ed and edited to death so that there’s no sense of place or danger. Jake and Gemma fight and kiss, free themselves from ambushes and fight through more dodgy CGI, but there’s nothing remotely magical here for kids. Alfred Molina wanders on in the Middle Eastern equivalent of blackface to play an East End ostrich trader who makes jokes about income tax (everyone in Persia is English, apparently, including Jake), but the whole enterprise feels like a listless, loud retread of a 1980s sword ‘n’ sorcery B-flick.
What’s most depressing is that there’s so little heart, even for a Jerry Bruckheimer movie – the Eastern setting is vaguely magical, but not enough to provide us with monsters (like those later Hammer films that promised dinosaurs but didn’t have any), the princess is vaguely feisty, Gyllenhaal is vaguely heroic and Ben Kingsley is vaguely villainous.
If someone in Hollywood read just part of the One Hundred And One Arabian Nights, they’d find rich and wonderful stories galore. Instead, they went to a popular videogame and filmed it as a carbon-copy platformer with the laziest of cliched plots. Mike Newell’s direction is passable but even he seems incapable of creating a single moment in which you sit up and take interest.