Much of the hype surrounding the Jerry Bruckheimer faux-epic Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time the Disney adaptation of the blockbuster videogame has centered on its star Jake Gyllenhaal who for the past several months has been the main target of a not-inconsiderable amount of ridicule leveled at the film’s trailers which admittedly range from cheesy to laughable. Surprisingly (to yours truly at least) Gyllenhaal isn’t nearly as unconvincing an action hero in the role of Dastan Prince of Persia's main protagonist as the footage seemingly presaged. Granted the period of adjustment required to take the Donnie Darko and Brokeback Mountain star seriously as a swashbuckling ladies’ man is far longer than that of say Johnny Depp or Robert Downey Jr. and Gyllenhaal's English accent does have the annoying habit of lapsing into a sort of drunken Cockney during times of stress but he still proves more than adequate by established popcorn-movie standards.
The film's plot draws primarily from the 2003 iteration of the game. The adopted son of Sharaman (Ronald Pickup) king of the film’s ahistorical non-denominational ninth-century “Persia ” former street kid Dastan is raised alongside his father’s birth sons Tus (Richard Coyle) and Garciv (Toby Kebbell) and grows up to become a great warrior loved by royalty and commonfolk alike. While helping his brothers conquer the holy city of Alamut Dastan comes across the Dagger of Time a magical device that enables its possessor to travel back in time -- provided its hilt is filled with the proper amount of magic sand of course.
Naturally such a device could prove a powerful weapon in the wrong hands and Dastan soon finds himself on the run accompanied only by Princess Tamina (Gemma Arterton) who claims to have been anointed by the gods (whose gods we’re never told) to protect the Dagger from those who covet it -- namely the king’s brother Nazam (Ben Kingsley) whose evil machinations are rather obviously telegraphed by his sinister fu manchu.
Tamina plays dual roles functioning also as the sacred Keeper of the Backstory serving up portions of the film’s mythology during lengthy bits of exposition after each milestone in Dastan’s quest. In this sense Prince of Persia nods conspicuously to its videogame roots mimicking the structure of a traditional quest game: A period of feverish action is followed by the narrative equivalent of the “Thank you but the Princess is in another castle” trope from the original Super Mario Bros.
As in the classic Nintendo game the process grows tiresome if not boring. And yet like a lean swarthy greasy-haired Mario Gyllenhaal soldiers on laboring vainly to overcome the film’s narrative deficiencies and Mike Newell’s often jarringly mediocre effects work. He loses the battle but in the process proves himself a worthy action star. Unfortunately for Gyllenhaal his princess is in another castle.