By the incredibly low standards of video game adaptations (Max Payne, Mortal Kombat), Prince of Persia is something of a triumph, but by the high-stakes standards of summer blockbusters, it's a relative snooze. Way back in 1989, the original PC game — with a rotoscoped, turbaned hero vaulting over spiked pits and ducking swinging scimitars — was a storytelling breakthrough in those more technically primitive days. More recent installments have used modern digital expertise to give players the full visceral excitement of re-creating the Prince's athletic feats of daring — though on the big screen the stunts are merely passable diversions.
It's all very bombastic and empty, as the whole cast seems inclined to scream instead of to act. The threadbare plot involves standard palace intrigue, a mistaken murder, and the hunt for a video-game-like magic dagger that can briefly rewind time, leading one to wonder why they didn't go back and edit the lame dialogue. There are bursts of adrenaline as the hero flips and rolls his way through the old city, performing a risky round of Parkour on shaky thatched roofs.
As the titular prince Dastan, Jake Gyllenhaal looks buff, but sounds silly, spouting stiff dialogue in a weird, pseudo cockney, plus he's about as Middle Eastern as Liz Taylor in Cleopatra. Jake would seem seriously out of place in ancient Persia, if he weren't surrounded by a veritable ocean of vanilla players, most of whom sound like they just hopped off the tube stop at Paddington Station.
As she did in the recent Clash of the Titans, the blandly gorgeous and very pale Gemma Arterton plays the love interest, whose biggest danger seems to be balancing her ample curves while bounding about and throwing daggers.
The PC crowd would call this sort of thing "color-blind casting" though more blunt critics would call it whitewashing. This is an infamous age-old Hollywood practice which allowed John Wayne to once play Genghis Khan, and it's apparently alive and kicking in the new millennium. There are, however, fun supporting turns by two actors of no more Arabic persuasion, but of terrific acting pedigrees; Alfred Molina and Sir Ben Kingsley. You could question what such distinguished chaps are doing in pulp like this, but, like so many video game characters before, they just have to jump through a few hoops to collect coins.
Corey Hall writes about film for Metro Times. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.