This is another one I never would’ve watched without painting myself into a corner with this review series. It falls into the small percentage of big summer movies that I just had no interest in seeing at all. Alot of the ones I miss, like, say, PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN 4, I didn’t get around to seeing them, and I heard they were bad, but yeah, sure, I’d watch ’em. Probly will some day. But not this one. I wouldn’t have.
In fact, back when PRINCE OF PERSIA’S SANDS OF TIME came out in 2010 I reviewed WILD THINGS FOURSOME for The Ain’t It Cool News and you know how the newsies have this thing where whatever you wrote they are outraged because what the fuck harry you fat fuck this is a new low you call this news why are you writing about this shit when other sights are writing about ______ no wonder this sight is going downhill fuck you? Well there was this one guy who thought I should’ve been writing about PRINCE OF PERSIA. Here’s part of the exchange (abbreviated for your convenience):
Who’s laughing now, buddy? Well, I guess you are, now that I reviewed it. Wait, no – I am, because there’s no way in hell you would want to read anything about that movie now. I would argue that while both movies made absolutely no impression on the culture of any kind and are rightly forgotten and in a way it is kind of unethical for me to be bringing them up again right now, at least the one I reviewed would cause people to say “they made a part 4?” So it has more value.
(I don’t read sports websights – do people post on the basketball articles saying “What the fuck is this shit? I want to read about football fuck you espn you cocksucker you are fat also”)
Jake Gyllenhaal plays Prince Whatsisdick, a streetwise street orphan plucked off the street and raised by the king with two royal-blooded brothers. Now the king is old or whatever and the brothers kinda squabble about how to start wars and who will become king. Our boy would rather be doing shirtless street fights or parkour with the rabble, but sometimes he has to lead an army and prove that he’s better at it than his uptight siblings.
On one of these occasions he 1) finds a fancy lookin dagger and 2) meets Princess whatever of Alamut (Gemma Arterton, THE DISAPPEARANCE OF ALICE CREED). And the prince, the princess and the dagger all get mixed up in an attempted coup when his father is killed with a poison cloak and he’s set up to take the fall. He goes on the run with the princess, they bicker into love, he finds out the dagger is magic and can make him go back in time, they fight alot of guys, travel around on a journey and shit, adventurous, etc.
Back during the initial rejection period I thought Gyllenhaal, fine actor and all, was not right to play a sword-wielding Persian prince in an action adventure. barnaby jones thought I was calling him gay by mentioning the shirtlessness and referring to him caring about this movie as an alternative lifestyle, but I honestly didn’t mean it that way. I just thought Gyllenhaal looked ridiculous playing this type of character. The truth is he does much better than I expected, but he still doesn’t have the type of charisma that might save a movie like this. It’s funny that the poor guy had to learn a British accent as a metaphor for being Persian. It proves he’s more versatile than I realized, but also it makes me miss his usual mumbly slow guy likability.
Dastan (that’s the name of his character, I looked it up now) excels at climbing walls, jumping off rooftops, onto moving carriages and stuff. It’s based on a video game so I’m sure it comes from that. It’s kinda cool, there are lots of practical stunts, but since it’s a period setting that requires lots of sets and digital backdrops there’s no room for long extended parkour shots, usually they gotta do one move per shot.
I do like Arterton in this. She has kind of a Rachel Weisz-esque charm. She’s more memorable than in CLASH OF THE TITANS I think, although that’s a way more enjoyable movie.
There’s some obvious contemporary politics worked in. An invasion is justified on fake charges of selling weapons to the enemy. A stooge is embarrassed by a failed search for the weapons. An advisor is secretly manipulating the younger, naive leader. An ostrich racing mogul (Alfred Molina) rants about taxes (an age old hacky joke, but probly meant as a reference to tea party people). It would’ve been subversive if it had been in the middle of it all, but years after Bush was even in office it’s more like a cute half joke than a political statement.
In alot of ways this is the PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN formula, so what is it that makes it not work as well? For one thing, a sense of invention. The PIRATESes had their living skeletons, their squid people and shit, groundbreaking FX shots that at the time we weren’t even sure how they were done (nobody had done anything like Davey Jones before). This has… some confusing ghosty animation to show the dagger’s magic, an ostrich, some magic snakes. There’s not really monsters and stuff. It’s mostly about white people pretending to be Persians journeying through the desert while fake LAWRENCE OF ARABIA type music plays.
Also the humor is missing. They definitely try to have a witty banter going between the prince and the princess, but it falls pretty flat. They’re likable but they don’t get laughs, at least from me. It’s not even remotely close to as annoying as the MUMMY movies in the jokes & laffs department, but at least those have monsters and crazy shit that happens to sort of make up for some of that.
More than anything PRINCE OF PERSIA makes me wish I was watching THE SCORPION KING. It’s really the same kind of material, done with better production values and more acclaimed director and actors. It feels classier, but it doesn’t have the humor, the momentum or of course the charisma and screen presence of The Rock. And I guess it has less CONAN influence too. It’s just kinda bland. I’ll take cheesy over bland.
The director is Mike Newell. I guess after he got a HARRY POTTER gig he was up for movies like this too. The screenplay is credited to Boaz Yakin (THE PUNISHER, THE ROOKIE, FRESH, SAFE) but also Doug Miro & Carlo Bernard (THE SORCERER’S APPRENTICE), screen story by Jordan Mechner (the guy that did the video game).
Are you kidding me? Other places have reviews of Runner Runner already and I’m posting this shit? Well, I work on my own schedule.
VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.