With one of the worst big budget scripts in years, Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time is the kind of laughable turd that only works if you see it in an empty theater and are allowed to heckle the film Mystery Science Theater-style. Otherwise, make sure you’re caffeinated because there hasn’t been this boring a Memorial Day tentpole since…well, ever. It is a shockingly lazy affair with zero character development and a screenplay that should be used in writing classes when the lesson about over-explanation comes around. Imagine a movie where every character talks about what they’re doing and why at ALL TIMES. With rare exception, every line in Prince of Persia is either explaining a character’s motives or desires. If you have to constantly explain your plot to the audience, they’re going to stop caring. And it’s not as if The Sands of Time is overly complex. And yet every other line is something like “I’m going to get the dagger;” “I want to get the dagger;” “Help me get the dagger”. Imagine watching someone else play a video game while another guy narrates it.
Loosely based on the sometimes-excellent video game series Prince of Persia, Mike Newell’s film opens with the introduction of its title character, an orphan boy named Dustan (Jake Gyllenhaal) who is taken in by a benevolent King (Ronald Pickup) with two other sons. Flash to years later as the King and his now-warrior sons are trying to attack an ancient city led by a gorgeous princess (Gemma Arterton) after believing they are manufacturing weapons for their enemies. During the assault, Dustan displays his parkour ability and stumbles upon an ancient dagger that can turn back time a few minutes. It turns out that the magical weapon was actually the reason for the attack in the first place and Dustan ends up on the run with the princess after being falsely accused of killing his adoptive father. They run into a bit of comic relief in the form of a con man (Alfred Molina) and Ben Kingsley chews the scenery as Dustan’s uncle, a character who might as well be wearing a sandwich board that says “villain.”
Honestly, who cares? The plot of Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time is such a bore that I started to get drowsy while typing the paragraph above. It’s about a dagger, sand, time, brothers, snakes, blah, blah, blah. And the characters are merely archetypes: Prince, Princess, King, Brothers, Villain, Comic Relief. There’s not a single memorable line or piece of character development in the entire piece and the script’s vague attempts at modern war commentary (it’s essentially about false information leading to an attack) are so thin that they’re useless.
And the laziness of the script extends to the entire project. Gyllenhaal’s accent comes and goes (as does the facial hair on his stunt double), Arterton over-enunciates every syllable, and Kingsley barely seems interested in his own dialogue. None of the characters ever connect with the audience. I’m tempted to say that the film is like Pirates of the Caribbean with no Jack Sparrow but that actually sounds more entertaining than this mess.
Even the action set-pieces are a snooze with every single interesting CGI shot in the previews. Mike Newell, who has done excellent work in the past with his Harry Potter installment, is the wrong fit in that he seems to be shooting for old-fashioned action/adventure every once in awhile but that style doesn’t blend with Producer Jerry Bruckheimer’s CGI-heavy aesthetic. The entire film seems cobbled together by people who never got on the same page with their accents much less what they were trying to do with the overall film. Newell seems to be looking to old-fashioned swashbucklers while Bruckheimer wants to make a modern blockbuster and the cast just seems to be working for the paycheck.
Despite all the film’s many problems, most of them come back to the truly horrendous script. There has been some controversy recently in the world of video games after Roger Ebert claimed that they can never be art. The jury may still be out on that statement but Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time seems to prove that films based on them never will be.
Rating: HALF BONE