From Friday’s Weekend Look section of The Oklahoman. 3 of 4 stars.
“Prince of Persia” loud, dumb but fun swords-and-sandals adventure
The sixth-century setting aside, the swords-and-sandals adventure “Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time” qualifies as an unabashed throwback.
Director Mike Newell (“Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire”) and producer Jerry Bruckheimer (“Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl”) put a modern spin on Saturday matinee romps in which the brave protagonist pulls off superhuman feats in battle, charmingly woos a feisty heroine and faces seemingly insurmountable challenges on a quest to right wrongs. Swashes will be buckled, with Douglas Fairbanks-style athleticism and Errol Flynn-esque aplomb.
For better or worse, “Prince of Persia” doesn’t stray too far from its video-game origins: The plethora of action sequences emphasize lightning-fast cuts and head-spinning stunts, and the story is riddled with ridiculous plot holes, goofy dialogue and unlikely coincidences.
Fortunately, the loud, fast-paced dumbness is offset with a rip-roaring sense of fun too often detonated right out of many summer popcorn flicks. (Yes, Michael Bay, I’m talking to you.)
Usually oh-so-serious Jake Gyllenhaal stars as the titular royal, Dastan, a former orphan boy adopted after good King Sharaman (Ronald Pickup) witnessed an instance of his courage and kindness. His Highness is passing on the family business of conquering and empire-building to his sons, with elders Tus (Richard Coyle) and Garsiv (Toby Kebbell) leading the army proper while the bold and nimble Dastan captains a band of guerrilla fighters.
When their uncle Nizam (Ben Kingsley) presents evidence that the holy city of Alamut is arming for an uprising, the brothers attack against their father’s orders. During the pitched battle, Dastan comes to possess an unusual dagger, despite the efforts of Alamut’s leader, Princess Tamina (Gemma Arterton), to hide it.
An act of betrayal makes Dastan a wanted man and puts him on the run, with Tamina pursuing him in the hopes of recovering the dagger, which has powerful mystical properties. As they trek through beautifully brutal deserts, mountains and cities, they encounter a wily sheik (Alfred Molina), his knife-throwing sidekick (Steve Toussaint) and a fierce assassin (Gísli Örn Garðarsson) who can control snakes and whirlwinds.
Gyllenhaal establishes himself as a worthy cinematic action hero, shares smoldering chemistry with Arterton and plays well with the colorful cast of supporting characters.
Although the film might have benefited from more culturally-accurate casting, the star is having so much fun sword-fighting, back-flipping and wise-cracking as Prince Dastan that his enthusiasm for “Prince of Persia” proves contagious.