PRINCE OF PERSIA — THE SANDS OF TIME avoids the usual mistakes associated with a video game making the leap to the big screen. Instead of cluttering the running time with one feckless action sequence after another that could, for all practical purposes, run in any random order without significantly affecting the through story, PRINCE has a series of action sequences strung together with an adventure story worth of the greatest of the B-movies. Thats no slam. There is nothing wrong with a popcorn flick that embraces its nature as whole-heartedly as this one does.
The McGuffin is a mystical dagger with the power to turn back time, one minute of it anyway. Its protected by a beautiful and feisty princess (Gemma Arterton), chased after by an evil band of top secret assassins with their own mystical powers, and at the very start accidentally ends up in the noble hands of Dastan (Jake Gyllenahaal) the eponymous prince who, though noble, is not born of noble blood. In fact, he was plucked from the gutter by the King of Persia for showing unexpected gumption. As an adult, Dastan still has gumption, plus two adoptive brothers, and an uncle (Ben Kingsley), in whose footsteps he would like to follow into a bright future as the trusted advisor to the next king.
Nefarious plots unfold, swordplay erupts at regular intervals, and Dastans use of parkour (choreographed by David Belle, who invented it) unites modern action tropes with the classic stunts used by Douglas Fairbanks, Sr. back in his heyday. Not that Gyllenhaal evinces the same buoyant ebullience of Mr. Fairbanks as he single-handedly storms the sacred city of Alamut, but he has his own brand of devil-may-care swash to his buckle when fending off hordes of bad guys while also falling for the spunky princess who, of course, ends up as his sidekick. Hes also got and plenty of non-ironic solemnity when it comes to his mission. That would be to right the wrongs committed in the first 20 minutes or so by basically good people hornswoggled by a turncoat, and then restoring the honor of those who deserve it.
Colorful characters, in equally colorful costumes, abound, as they should in films of this ilk, with Alfred Molina slyly stealing everyones thunder in his outsized turn as a shady sports entrepreneur with a weakness for ostriches and dim views of taxation, with or without representation. Special effects also abound, with temples disintegrating into dust, that nifty lava-lamp of a show when the dagger reverses time, not to mention those ostriches.
PRINCE OF PERSIA — THE SANDS OF TIME is a rollicking good time that isnt afraid to toss in a contemporary reference or two, most pointedly about weapons of mass destruction used as an excuse for invasion and then not being where they are supposed to be. There is, however no attempt to root the action in any strictly historical time or place other than once upon a time and that fairy tale mood is extended to the delicacy of language (nothing profane), relative modesty of dress (nothing showing that would get anyone arrested on the street), and the light touch when it comes to violence. Theres plenty, but aside from a truly scary close-up into the mouth of one of those vipers, and a few unfortunates on the wrong side of sharp objects, its surprisingly tame. Fun for kids, fast-paced and engaging enough for adults, get out the popcorn and dive in.