"Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time" is a big-budget action movie about a magic dagger that can transport its bearer backward in time. I can certainly think of 116 minutes I'd love to have back.
This bewilderingly bad offering from the house of Jerry Bruckheimer is based on a video game. The lineage of movies spawned thusly is not a noble one, and "Prince of Persia" competes for the top spot at the bottom of a deep trough.
How awful do things get? Well, let's start with the fact that star Jake Gyllenhaal does that annoying thing American actors do when they don't want to attempt a foreign accent: A generic English lilt that summons painful aural memories involving Kevin Costner and archery.
I guess Gyllenhaal can't be blamed, since he's the only Yank in an entirely British cast of principles. I'm hardly a disciple of political correctness, but methinks if you're going to have a movie called "Prince of Persia," you might want to have at least one actual Persian.
The video game (actually, a series) involved lots of sword-fighting and acrobatic jumping and tumbling, and director Mike Newell stages his action scenes (clumsily) to look like Gyllenhaal is in the middle of a really challenging level of the game, and we're directing him with our controller.
The intercutting between Gyllenhaal and his stuntmen is pretty obvious, as the professional busts some of those gravity-defying parkour moves, transplanted from an urban setting to pre-Christendom Arabia. Then we cut back to the star touching down.
The plot, courtesy of three screenwriters, is a whirling dervish of pseudo-history and made-up mythology.
Tus (Richard Coyle), the crown prince of Persia, orders his troops to invade the city of Alamut after discovering some trumped-up evidence they're secretly forging weapons. Dastan (Gyllenhaal), the youngest brother whom the king adopted as a street urchin, is the hero of the battle, even though he opposed the attack.
Dastan finds a magic dagger that contains the Sands of Time. When you press a button on the hilt, you travel backward in time one minute, and can prevent bad things from happening. The sands are consumed, but Tamina (Gemma Arterton), the Alamutian princess, is the dagger's guardian and knows how to get more.
The king is fatally poisoned, and Dastan catches the blame, forcing he and Tamina to flee for their lives, ratcheting up a standard-issue love/hate relationship. I won't reveal who the real villain is, other than to point out Ben Kingsley is hanging around, playing the uncle and wearing a lot of eyeliner. Just sayin'.
Alfred Molina turns up as a shady sheikh who runs an ostrich-racing operation, has a deadly African knife guy as his best friend, and delivers a lot of angry tirades about the government taking all his money through taxes to spend on stuff he doesn't like. I think the Tea Party just found its Adam.
Anyway, things devolve into a seemingly endless series of battles and acrobatics, with everybody trying to get their hands on the dagger -- and the fate of the entire world hanging in the balance, of course.
And speaking of that dagger: If the wielder goes back in time a minute, wouldn't the dagger also travel backward, and thus still have its sand? So theoretically you could just keep pushing the button over and over. Maybe even ... 116 times?
1.5 stars out of four