MOVIE REVIEW: Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time

PRINCE OF PERSIA: THE SANDS OF TIME-- 2 STARS

I'll be the first guy to stand up and say that I love Hollywood mega-producer Jerry Bruckheimer's movies.  His resume from the last 25 years includes so many fun and guilty pleasure action flicks, that I am powerless as a man from turning the channel away when they are on television.  To quite his signature hit Top Gun, the list is "long and distinguished:" the Beverly Hills Cop series, Days of Thunder, Crimson Tide, the Bad Boys series, The RockCon Air, Dangerous Minds, Enemy of the State, Armageddon, Remember the Titans, Black Hawk Down, Gone in Sixty Seconds, Pearl Harbor, and, most recently, his extremely profitable National Treasure and Pirates of the Caribbean Disney franchises.

Even with all of that success, I think Bruckheimer is slipping more often than he used to.  For every tense Crimson Tide, there's a ridiculous Kangaroo Jack.  For every over-the-top Armageddon, there's a Bad Company with the mismatched pair of Anthony Hopkins and Chris Rock.  For every unforgettable Remember the Titans, there's a perfectly forgettable Coyote Ugly.  Even the Pirates sequels got out of hand and too much.  While Bruckheimer has hung his hat at Disney for most of his career, it has also become his biggest hurdle.  With Disney, he needs to deliver PG or PG-13 family-friendly hits.  Just take last year's G-Force and you'll see what I mean.  He's taken his formula of great action and is now reduced to guinea pigs instead of the macho 80's of Eddie Murphy's mouth and Tom Cruise's disregard for following the rules.

Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time adds to that Bruckheimer and Disney hurdle.  Instead of being a brawny combat epic from the video game it's based on in someone else's hands (say a guy like Ridley Scott), Bruckheimer and previous Harry Potter series director Mike Newell have crafted a safe, yet convoluted tale for the mass audience.  While filled with plenty of action and good-looking people, it's lacks any real bite, unless you count the CGI snakes.

Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time follows Prince Dastan (Jake Gyllenhaal and, yes, ladies, he's frequently shirtless and all yours with his British accent), the adopted son from the streets of the aging Persian king Sharaman who joins his two fellow princes and step-brothers, Garsiv and Tus, as leaders of the Persian army who lay siege to the sacred city of Alamut.  When Dastan's bold tactics and incredibly daring combat moves secure the victory, he is celebrated for his bravery.  During the victory, Dastan intercepts a guard sent by Alamut's Princess Tamina (Gemma Arterton of Clash of the Titans and Quantum of Solace) and unknowingly acquires a valuable artifact and weapon that she was trying to get out of the defeated city before it fell into Persian hands.

That valuable item is the Dagger of Time, which has the ability to reverse time for the holder of the dagger.  When Dastan is blamed for his adopted father and king's shocking death, he is branded a fugitive by his brothers and the king's brother and top aide, Nizam (Academy Award winner and master of eyeliner Sir Ben Kingsley) and goes on the run with a kidnapped Tamina.  When Dastan discovers the power he has and what Tamina is trying to do to protect it, he fights valiantly to clear his name and set things right, while using the dagger's ability to change time every now and then.  Naturally, there's also a scoundrel ally (Spider-Man 2's Alfred Molina) who changes his tune from money to heroics in helping our hero along the way.  One fake-looking effects-laden action scene follows another until the inevitable big showdown.

Where the film succeeds is being more National Treasure than The Mummy, with a story pace that is a little less manic than the wild Mummy series.  Unlike the bumbling and unwatchable Brendan Fraser, Jake Gyllenhaal makes for a charismatic lead character without using lame humor.  You root for him and he plays the part with a manly edge that matches his character's deadly and acrobatic skill, even if he's given way too many slow-mo action shots of flips and twists.  He'd be right at home in a John Woo film with random pigeons flying around him.

However, while it might not be moving 200mph, Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, like other movies with a time-travel elementstumbles from a convoluted plot with a lot of holes.  While the Dagger of Time may allow our characters to change events that just happened, the results aren't much better and the repetition of convenient fixes pile up by the time the movie ends.  That word, "convenient," echoes what these movies are for Disney and Bruckheimer.  There's enough action for the dads, hot bodies for the moms, and cool factor for the kids who will tug on those parent's sleeves to go see it, all while not being overly excessive in any of those departments to not put the Disney name on it.  That's convenient enough to put butts in seats and money in their pockets, whether it's Johnny Depp acting like a drunk pirate, guinea pig government agents, or, in this case, ancient Iranians before they had Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and nuclear weapons.  Let's take it to the lessons:

LESSON #1: CHANGING THE PAST CAN BE HELPFUL, BUT SOMETIMES ISN'T ALL IT'S CRACKED UP TO BE-- Just like in Back to Future, for every Doc that reads the letter and wears a bulletproof vest you also have a Back to the Future: Part II where everything would have been just fine left alone or when small changes make a world of difference later.  This movie, like other time-travel movies, has elements of that lesson.  Nevertheless, it always makes for dramatic storytelling that keeps you guessing.  Give me the very underrated The Butterfly Effect anytime! 

LESSON #2: NEVER TRUST SIR BEN KINGSLEY--  Has he played a good guy since Gandhi or Schindler's List?  He's been slumming in bad-guy parts in movies both really bad (BloodRayne and A Sound of Thunder) and really good (Shutter Island ) for the better part of a decade.  The sight of him on screen in a movie should immediately scream "highly intelligent villain with a secret, yet-not-so secret agenda."

LESSON #3: THE POWER OF BROTHERHOOD IS STRONG-- Brothers have a special bond.  Even when they clash and fight, in the end, the bonds of family unite them and can settle many differences.  Trust in that and be a good brother, whether you're the little brother, big brother, or adopted brother.

LESSON #4: WHEN WISE PEOPLE TELL YOU THAT USING POWER BEYOND YOUR GRASP CAN DESTROY EVERYTHING, THEY ARE PROBABLY RIGHT-- How many movies have we seen this in?  How many movies have a wise, calm character tells the loud, arrogant character not to try something or not to press the button or not to go after the such-and-such thing?  Take their advice.  They are smarter than you and will save you a lot of trouble and maybe even your life.