Of course, I’m beginning to believe its many flaws were predestined; it is a video game adaptation, after all—And according to Rotten Tomatoes, the best yet. That I’m inclined to agree, despite its stagey references to the high-flying acrobatics of its virtual progenitor, speaks volumes. If there’s one thing the “Prince of Persia” film does right, it’s to downplay its video gaminess by crafting a story that isn’t exclusively a series of action sequences (historically, the problem with these adaptations is that they’re about as engaging as watching someone else play a video game).
Nevertheless, there’s still that wink and nod to the source material that I can’t imagine even fans care about. It’s as if, in adapting a book, a director felt the need to insert page-turn animations as scene transitions to remind the audience that his characters are adapted from a different medium. I don’t care what it used to be; it’s a film now.
Appropriately then, even more so than the somewhat-popular game series, “Prince of Persia” draws heavy influence from Disney’s other live-action flagship franchise, “Pirates of the Caribbean.” It’s painfully obvious that Jake Gyllenhaal is meant to be a charming scoundrel in the vein of Jack Sparrow, but that character and performance are a tough act to follow, especially when you’re doing the same routine.
Characterization is generally uninspired in the film, ranging from one-dimensional (Gemma Arterton as a feisty princess), to cliché (Sir Ben Kingsley as the Royal Council with an eye on the throne—Oops, spoiler), to the chin-scratching ridiculous (Alfred Molina as an ostrich racing bookie). It makes for a film that’s often funny in spite of itself, with earnestly delivered lines like, “You can’t organize an ostrich race WITH JUST ONE OSTRICH!” and curiously long reaction shots accentuating Gyllenhaal’s bizarre facial contractions.
But the Prince’s ultimate failure is that his film, in its transparent attempt at cinematic junk food, critically ignores its plot, which is as cavity-stricken as a decaying tooth. Granted, it may not consist of a string of forgettable action sequences, but “Prince of Persia” is instantly forgettable regardless because it never feels substantial, and its McGuffin—That is, the ‘dagger of time,’ which grants its carrier the ability to undo the present and travel a finite distance into the past—Is underutilized. In its stead are scenes chock-full of verbose and expository character herding devices, which for all their impatient roving, never manage to bring our heroes anywhere interesting or visually distinct. My whole experience with “Prince of Persia” is sort of a beige blur.
Had the film been cut drastically shorter and thematically simplified, there may have been a cute little family action film here, but instead, it submits to the running time penis-measuring contest; any title under 100 minutes need not apply. “Prince of Persia” clocks in at just under two hours, and with so little narrative cohesion, it’s not hard to start picking out the extraneous chunks. What you get is a messy and dissonant sword-and-sandals wannabe epic that carries not a single distinguishing mark.
Well, there is the one. “Prince of Persia” dares to attempt fun in an age of doom and gloom gravitas, and it succeeds—Albeit at it’s own expense.