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For Jake Gyllenhaal, it’s crunch time
by Jason Blair
PRINCE OF PERSIA: THE SANDS OF TIME: Directed by Mike Newell. Written by Boaz Yakin, Doug Miro and Carlo Bernard. Cinematography, John Seale. Music, Harry Gregson-Williams. Starring Jake Gyllenhall, Gemma Arterton, Ben Kingsley and Alfred Molina. Walt Disney Pictures, 2010. PG-13. 103 minutes.
Recalling how The Mummy films entombed Brendan Fraser’s career, I approached Disney’s Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time with something of a jaded mindset. While I strive for fair-mindedness, it’s more accurate to say I’ve been hoping for the worst with Persia. Call it the lose now-win later plan or the delayed prosperity principle: Ideally, a film falls so short of expectations that any talk of sequels collapses. Among the many things we don’t need from Hollywood is another actor sacrificed to a silly movie cycle — have you checked in with the Pirates of the Caribbean films lately? — particularly an actor with the steady talent, if intermittent taste, of Jake Gyllenhaal.
Gyllenhaal, whose best roles convey a brooding, muted ferocity, isn’t built for sabers-and-sandals epics, and no amount of time spent in a gym can change that. In Prince of Persia, a buffed-up Gyllenhaal plays Dastan — accent on the second syllable, please — an adopted prince who’s more comfortable street-fighting than eating figs from the fingers of his servants. Dastan, a cross between Rambo and Inigo Montoya from The Princess Bride, does more running and jumping than a high school track team, a fact his step-brothers, both blood relatives to the king, seem to respect if not admire. When Persia opens, the royal princes Tus (Richard Coyle) and Garsiv (Toby Kebbell) are about to launch raids on neighboring Alamut, an adventure all agree Dastan is not yet ready for. Leave it to Dastan to prove them wrong by breaching the city walls before his brothers, only to stumble on an awkwardly topical truth: Two thousand years before WMD in Iraq, the three brothers may have invaded Alamut under false pretenses.
Those pretenses are set forth by Nizam (Ben Kingsley), an advisor to the royal family and a very jealous little man. But by this point in Persia, which had heretofore been frenetic, the film just settles into something very dull. And, I should add, derivative: In the sense that Nizam resembles Wormtongue from The Two Towers, there’s some heavy leaning on other material here, not to mention the aforementioned Mummy and Raiders of the Lost Ark. Regarding the latter, the fine Gemma Arterton is on hand to impersonate Karen Allen’s Marion Ravenwood from Raiders, but Arterton’s Princess Tamina is nothing more than a steady stream of complaints in a dress. The bickering and the testy patter between Dastan and Tamina ultimately backfire, the result being slightly more chemistry than Mary Tyler Moore and Ted Knight on the Mary Tyler Moore show.
The person having the most fun (and the best lines) in Persia is Alfred Molina, who shows up as a lighthearted, easygoing villain, thereby raising himself up from the rut of overbearing villains he’s been playing for the last 10 years. Other than Molina, the latter part of Persia is all wigs and eye makeup — and don’t even get me started on the women, of which nary a convincing specimen appears. It all makes for a less than satisfying start to the summer blockbuster season, but take heart: When Tamina utters “We’re no longer pure” to Dastan, it’s impossible to disagree with her. We can only hope Disney gets the message and keeps future summers Persia-free.