Whether it's a Hitchcockian MacGuffin, like secret documents that Cary Grant needs to find to clear his name or some ridiculously over-the-top device that James Bond must search out and destroy to save mankind from world domination, in the best hero's journey action stories, the emphasis is on the quest rather than “the thing” the hero is chasing.
For when you place too much attention on the object itself – especially when it's both mystical and as conveniently gimmicky as Prince of Persia's magical dagger that causes the possessor of it to reverse the flow of time at their command – the overall journey becomes moot since instead, all the storyteller wants to do is show off their shiny new toy.
The result crushes what was supposed to be dressed up Lawrence of Arabia escapist summer popcorn fare set amidst the epic sweep of producer Jerry Bruckheimer's swashbuckling trilogy Pirates of the Caribbean, which he was no doubt hoping to emulate. But instead Persia turns into an even more nonsensical stunt movie where overblown CGI trickery easily usurps its forgettable plotline.
And since the dagger that the adopted orphan Prince Dastan (Jake Gyllenhaal) teams up alongside Princess Tamina (Gemma Arterton) to find in order to restore peace boasts the capability to bring someone back to life, after the initial “ooh” and “ahh” reaction wears off on viewers, we realize that nothing is really at stake for anyone in this yawn inducing film as the screenwriter continually trots out the same repetitive plot device.
Like the boy who cried wolf, by the time we see the “sands of time” reverse more than once, we no longer feel that compelled to buy into the next set of events that will invariably change on a dime... or rather a dagger.
Admittedly though, the yarn they're spinning had started to unravel long before the dagger debacle anyway thanks to sloppy editing and some lazy direction by the otherwise talented Mike Newell (think before the days he signed on to Harry Potter).
Frequently leaving us confused by what's happening other than the fact that thanks to type-casting and excessive eye makeup, we know darn well that Ben Kingsley is evil, it's no wonder that Prince of Persia arrives on disc only a few months after hitting theatres in late May of 2010.
However, perhaps the best thing that could come from the unfortunately sleep-inducing effort is that the affable Gyllenhaal could add sequences from it to his acting reel.
Doing so would not only work as a tongue-in-cheek joke that if he did Persia then he can do anything but also to show off his jaw-dropping fireman calendar style Jarhead rivaling physique (despite the cheesy Dancing with the Stars spray tan overload).
Moreover, Gyllenhaal's ability to dive right into action sequences might enable him to move back and forth from art house fare to big budget endeavors which could similarly interest a whole new audience in some of his best work such as Zodiac and Brokeback Mountain.
Likewise, he offers a charming delivery of even the clunkiest one-liners. Once again this makes you feel that the film has less in common with the video game series upon which it's based (and where no doubt the dagger trick would come in handy to restart game-play and remedy errors) and far more in common with Brendan Fraser's The Mummy franchise.
Obviously, Bruckheimer's Persia will appeal to its built in gamer audience. However, it may also strike a chord with Mummy and Caribbean viewers who like its throwback feel to both old fashioned Errol Flynn adventure movies and the cinemascope endeavors of the '50s that reminded you why going to the movies can be a great way of transporting you to faraway lands –regardless of the fact that the core Persian characters are Caucasians with British accents.
While it's weak at best despite a technically rock solid high definition Disney Blu-ray, Persia does feature a terrific scene-stealing performance from Alfred Molina who is guaranteed to wake you up enough to at least bring a smile to your face.
As the hammiest MVP, Molina throws himself fully into his role, embracing the cheesiness that follows by playing Persia as if he were given another shot to tackle his turn in Branagh's version of Shakespeare's As You Like It.
Still Molina's work isn't enough to save the movie as a whole, even though it's diverting enough to make you wish that instead of that bloody dagger, Persia's MacGuffin should've been the same heartily entertaining spirit with which he infused his performance. For joviality is always a valuable thing for which we should to turn back time to pursue and doing so would've no doubt made this Disney Persian journey well worth the investment.
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FTC Disclosure: Per standard professional practice, I received a review copy of this title in order to evaluate it for my readers, which had no impact whatsoever on whether or not it received a favorable or unfavorable critique.