I have nothing against a juvenile action-adventure yarn with a touch of fantasy thrown in, and while I can’t pretend to get inside the head of a 12-year-old boy, I enjoy summoning my inner child whenever such a film has great spirit and rousing action scenes. This one, I’m sorry to say, feels mechanical in its storytelling, and presents us with heroes and villains that are “types” rather than genuine, fleshed-out characters one can care about.
Jake Gyllenhaal is likable enough, and the actors who join him play their parts as well as can be expected, including the beautiful Gemma Arterton, as the princess who alone understands the mystic power of a dagger that can alter “the sands of time.”
It’s a good thing Ms. Arterton is beautiful, because this is one of those movies that—in spite of its expansive, Middle Eastern backdrop and enormous sets—chooses to play most of the scenes involving its main characters in ultra-closeups, the kind where—
—after a while you find yourself examining the pores in the actors’ skin. I suppose this will play well on an iPhone, but it’s pretty distracting on the big screen.
Director Mike Newell shoots and stages his action scenes in a way that’s even more frustrating: major stunts (and there are a lot of them) never seem to take place in plain view. If, for example, a character is to mount a horse during a frantic escape scene, then slide down to the side so his pursuers can’t see him, the action is so fragmented that we never actually see the stunt take place. All we get is the set-up and the result. (This same fragmented approach to action drove me crazy in the last James Bond film, Quantum of Solace.) What’s the point of having able-bodied stunt people if their work is obscured through the shooting and editing process?
As for visual effects, Prince of Persia does what other Jerry Bruckheimer productions have in the past. Its story builds to a climax that involves a massive scene of chaos and destruction…but the elements of this sequence are so huge, and obviously unrealistic, that there is no emotional connection with the characters whose survival is at stake as all hell breaks loose.
I don’t mean to dissect a movie that is clearly intended as escapist entertainment, and nothing more. But there is good escapism and then there’s this. Even the comedy-relief character played by the wonderful Alfred Molina seems shopworn, an amalgam of better-written figures from a dozen other films.
Undemanding 12-year-olds who don’t squirm at two-hour movies based on video games may not share my criticisms. But if you’re male, older than 12, and you have a choice between this and Sex and the City 2, I’d suggest staying home and reading a good book.