Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time (review)

Generic Videogame Action Movie, Exotic Ethnic Locale Type

I know I went to the movies last night. I distinctly remember it: I had purchased my ticket in advance on the Web but the ATMs at the multiplex weren’t working so I had to go up to the box office to pick up my ticket, and I remember being relieved that, obviously, the midnight showing of whatever it was I was seeing couldn’t be sold out because there was literally no one on line. And yet the kids “working” behind the counter still were too busy — goofing around — for a good two minutes before they would help me. And then all the other midnight moviegoers — there were more than I expected — and I were left waiting, without explanation, for a full half an hour past the posted start time for the movie to start. We sat there watching the same asinine slide-show “trivia” questions that a brain damaged hamster would have thought were insultingly easy and/or stupid. We didn’t even get any trailers to watch.

So I know I was at the movies… Was I kidnapped by aliens who left me with one of Fox Mulder’s missing-time blanks in my head? That would be kinda cool. That must be why I can’t remember a damn thing about whatever movie it was. But wait… I have the ticket stub. Ah, yes! It was Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time.

I saw Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time? Why can’t I remember anything about it?

Something’s coming back… Oh, yeah: Jake Gyllenhaal. He’s cute. He’s really cute. But how could he be a Persian prince? That’s just silly. And why did he — yes, yes, this I remember — why did he have an English accent? He’s not English. Ancient Persians didn’t speak English. Jake’s accent is suprisingly good, in fact. Could I have been so blinded by Jake’s supercuteness and the fact that his accent actually pushed my Anglophile button — instead of making me groan in sympathetic embarrassment for him — that I blanked on the rest of the movie?

No, that can’t be. He’s not that cute.

Wait: I took notes…

Oh, right: now I’m remembering. Not that there’s much to remember. Generic Videogame Action Movie, Exotic Ethnic Locale Type. Not exactly offensive, as such, just sort of rote and tired before it even gets started. Hard to write about, in fact, because there’s hardly any there there.

For a while, as I sat there being bored out of my skull, I tried to find a videogame angle to latch on to for my review: You know, “In the Valley of the Slaves level, watch out for thrown knives” and “During the Hassansin attack at the Sanctuary, don’t stop to kiss the Princess unless you want to get killed.” That got old really fast, and stopped being fun about half an hour in. (No, seriously, though: If you play the game in Banter Mode, trade quips with the Princess will build up your Parkour Power. Then hit the B button while jumping to get extra power in your leaps.)

Then I tried to work on an faux outraged, “no they didn’t!” pose. Did the usual ball team’s worth of screenwriters — Boaz Yakin (Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights); Doug Miro and Carlo Bernard (who together wrote The Uninvited and The Great Raid); and Jordan Mechner (who created the game and contributed to the story) — really try to make this disposable summer popcorn junk “relevant”? Because the plot, such as it is, revolves around a scheme of King Whatever (Ronald Pickup: Horatio Hornblower: The Duchess and the Devil) to invade some other city ruled by Princess Pretty (Gemma Arterton (Clash of the Titans, The Boat That Rocked), because they’ve got hidden weapons of mass destruction — or swords, at least, that they’re supposedly supplying to King Whatever’s enemies. But it’s all just a ruse to get at that city’s real resource: a mystical knife that, if you put some of the magical Sands of Time into the hilt, lets you rewind time. But as “commentary,” it departs as quickly as it arrives, so it would have been hard to get angry about it.

I had started to work up quite a head of steam on a “Fuck You, Persia” theme, an in-character rant by a Hollywood exec against the fine people of the Middle East (whackjobs aside, of course — hey, we’ve got more than our share of whackjobs, too). It probably would have gone along these lines: “Fuck you, Persia! Hell yes, we will invade your countries and appropriate your heritage for our summer blockbuster entertainment. And hell yes, and we’ll cast white actors in Persia roles. Sacred knife, sacred Sanctuary, sacred Princess: it’s all gonna look great on a lunchbox!” But that didn’t really work, either. Yeah, Hollywood has a long history of cultural insensitivity, but we’re supposed to be more enlightened these days, aren’t we? And we weren’t always occupying Persian countries at the same time. But mostly Prince is too cheerful in its tactlessness to be worth getting angry about, like your Uncle Joe who won’t shut up about how the Jews and the blacks are ruining his lawn — he doesn’t mean any harm, he’s just a moron.

I even tried to figure out how I could get the Time Lords outraged over the Sands of Time thing: that’s simply a temporal hazard that cannot be allowed on in a developing Level 2 civilization. I couldn’t make it work. I just couldn’t get excited enough about anything connected to Prince of Persia. Nothing about it is energized.

This is the kind of movie it is [spoiler!]: Cute English-accented Jake (Brothers, Rendition) spends half the movie trying to figure out who the villain is. Is it the “good” prince (Richard Coyle: The Libertine, Topsy-Turvy) or the “bad prince” (Toby Kebbell: RocknRolla, Alexander), who are both his brothers, since he was adopted by King Whatever, though on such spurious grounds that it’s impossible to imagine that even the lowliest peasant would accept him as royal, no matter how cute he is and how good his accent is. Or maybe the king is the villain?

It takes him way too long to realize that it’s his uncle, the king’s brother. Even if Jake has never seen The Lion King, he really should know: If Ben Kingsley (Shutter Island, The Love Guru) is in your cheesy popcorn movie, he’s the villain, dude.

Watch Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time online using LOVEFiLM‘s streaming service.

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