Review: Prince of Persia

I went into this movie searching for some brainless fun, without the zombies for a change. So what was I looking for? A classic blockbuster with a big budget, stunts galore and enough special effects to make a cinema purist cry into their unsalted popcorn? Yep,  basically the whole big caboodle and hopefully a sense of fun to match. That was pretty much what I got. More or less.

Prince of Persia is based on the video game of the same name, specifically the modern console reboot of the franchise – The Sands of Time. I’ve got this one floating around upstairs somewhere, one day I might actually remember to play it.

The movie’s computer game origins are visible not so much in its by the numbers storyline, that’s standard fare for most Hollywood blockbusters, its the sporadic bursts of bouncing off walls and careening round buildings that are the giveaway here, aping the muscular puzzle solving of the game. Yet what should be a strength for this type of movie, whether played straight or for laughs, becomes almost a weakness.

Many of the action sequences are never properly integrated into the flow of the movie and feel staged in comparison to the numerous Parkour flavoured movies out there like District 13 (“Hyper-kinetic French fun!”), or even the opening sequence of Casino Royale, who manage them inordinately better. To be honest, Disney’s animated masterpiece Aladdin is a more convincing scarper around the back streets of the medieval Middle East.

There’s another near miss with the magical dagger able to channel the sands of time. As MacGuffins go, imbuing the artifact everybody’s seeking with the ability to manipulate time is a step beyond the normal Shiny Sword of Blindly Obvious Manifest Destiny™ and has a lot of potential. Unfortunately, this is mostly squandered with some of the more interesting options available to you with a few seconds or so rebate only explored more closely in the finale.

The acting mostly ranges from just about okay (Kingsley, Arterton) to absolutely dire (the princely brothers – Richard Coyle’s fallen a long way from his inappropriate Coupling days). Jake Gyllenhaal looks the part in his role of the generic and pretty bland hero Dastan, and yes, that was definitely me damning him with faint praise. Maybe I just didn’t take to his attempt at an English (?) accent, but his performance feels flat.

Given that his movie back catalogue shows he is a real acting talent, personable even in big hitters like The Day After Tomorrow, that’s a real shame. As Prince of Persia aspires to be one of those classic Hollywood rip roaring swashbucklers, having a hero who seems a bit wet is a tad disappointing.

As the female lead Gemma Arterton isn’t asked to do a lot beyond be eye candy, not that I’m complaining overly much about the eye candy part as she does gorgeous very well, but she displays pretty good comic timing when required and the film would probably have been stronger if she had more to get her teeth into.

Ben Kingsley hams it up as the kindly old Grand Vizier, who obviously has the best interests of kingdom at heart and Alfred Molina steals the show as the dodgy Sheik who seemingly has wandered on from a 2nd rate Monty Python skit, which it almost goes without saying is a level above what’s on display here.

A final mention must go to the film’s bad guys, the ridiculously over the top evil Hassansins. As we’re not looking for subtle, they work well in the context of the film, though I can’t seem to shake the image of a bunch of very mellow Assassins going round hugging their intended victims when they’ve over indulged during their pre-battle rites.

Prince of Persia is a pretty bad movie in places, but it has that essential sense of fun touched upon earlier and is an undemanding watch if you fancy a popcorn style action adventure flick. Out of the pantheon of terrible movie re-hashes it stands hand and shoulders clear of mind shredding duds like Street Fighter or Tomb Raider.

Despite its flaws, I found myself liking it a more than I should, but please, please bring on Source Code.

Rating 61/100

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~ by Jack on May 2, 2011.

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