My favourite thing about the new Prince Of Persia movie, much like the games, is the way the titular hero makes makeshift footholds and scurries across a skyline, planting feet and hands on arrows that miss him and clotheslines that aren't meant to, swinging limberly along like a monkey that took ballet lessons.
And then there's his prowess with a sword, his expert thrusts and parries as shiny metal clings across the blade of a rival.
It's fantastically reminiscent of the classic Broderbund game: the game which showed us parkour movements before Bond and Akshay Kumar made them commonplace, the game which had a princess-lovin' baddie called Jaffar far before Disney's Aladdin stole a lot of its plot, the game which encouraged all manner of swashbuckling action but in a realtime rush, with one false move sending you right back to square one.
That videogame idea of going back to the start of the level -- starting afresh with a fully recharged character, so to speak -- forms the core of Mike Newell's completely forgettable and enjoyably frothy adaptation of Prince Of Persia: Sands Of Time.
The film's central concept is an ornately-crafted dagger with a bright red joysticky button on the top, one that turns back time.
The plot is absolute malarkey, predictable down to the very next scene, but that mystical chaaku claims to slice off most of the silly plot. Even though we've seen it, it hasn't really 'happened,' and while that's alarmingly lazy screenwriting, it doesn't hurt cause the film delivers what it promises.
Jake Gyllenhaal plays Prince Dastan, a plucky street urchin adopted by the King who, impressed by his bravery, presumably raised him on steroids. These Persians invade a holy city hunting for weapons of mass destruction (really, America? Aren't we going a bit overboard with this?) and for a stunning princess, played by Gemma Arterton looking beautiful but uncomfortable.
Then there's the dagger, of course, and twists and countertwists, none of which really surprise. There are sinister uncles and foul poisons and expert marksmen with hearts of gold and, of course, a love story. There's not a moment to quote or a scene to hold on to, but the fun of this film -- much like in the game -- is in the relentless pace, in the 2 hours packed back to back with action.
The film's leads seem to be having a great time, taking their flashes of hoary dialogue seriously enough to ham it up with enthusiasm, making sure there isn't a shade of grey or a speck of subtext anywhere in sight. Alfred Molina steals the show as an opportunistic ostrich-race organiser, while Ben Kingsley just bores, but the film's fun lies in pointing at Arterton's hilarious earnestness and at Gyllenhaal, clearly having a blast.
It plays out like a Douglas Fairbanks film, made on a massive budget and directed by, say, JP Dutta. It's big and obvious and filmi and constantly cliched, but it entertains without question -- even if it is rarely clever.
Now if only we and the Prince got to spend a little more time in that luscious royal harem, with those girls in veils...