If Disney is trying to find a franchise replacement for Pirates of the Caribbean -- or at least fill the void until they make a fourth installment -- then they pretty much missed the mark with Prince of Persia. Basing the film on the popular video game of the same name, director Mike Newell tries to find the perfect balance between interesting characters, coherent action sequences, and the fun comedic moments that this type of summer movie blockbuster requires, but the story races from elaborate set piece to even more elaborate set piece with reckless abandon, leaving this Arabian Nights-style adventure charmless.
The story centers on Dastan (Jake Gyllenhaal), a former street urchin-turned-prince who's adopted by the king of Persia. During a celebration after the Persian army conquers yet another helpless kingdom, Dastan flees the comfy halls of the palace after being accused of murdering the king. Desperate and alone, he teams up with Tamina (Gemma Arterton), the princess of a neighboring kingdom, who's charged with protecting an ancient dagger. What can the dagger do? It can turn back time when filled with the fabled sands of time, but if left with the forces of evil, the dagger can unleash Armageddon. Armed with that information, Dastan stops at nothing to protect the dagger from falling into the hands of his traitorous uncle, Nizam (Ben Kingsley).
It's hard to take Jake Gyllenhaal seriously as Dastan. He neither plays the role as a dashing hero or lovable rogue, so instead of an interesting and layered prince you get an action hero who is only as fun to watch as the current action sequence he is in. The same goes for Gemma Arterton, fresh off a similarly lifeless role in Clash of the Titans; Princess Tamina is pretty annoying, and when she isn't bickering endlessly with Dastan, she's pouting her lips and spouting off lines about duty and destiny. Arterton does her best, but it would have been nice to see her character strong-willed and likable. Even Sir Ben Kingsley had very little to work with, so he compensates by giving a pretty over-the-top performance as Nizam.
Despite all of its messiness, the film is still kind of fun. The acrobatic action choreography -- with Dastan leaping across rooftops, scaling walls, and some pretty wicked hand-to-hand combat -- keeps the film entertaining enough. One of the bright spots comes from Alfred Molina as the quirky sidekick Sheik Amar and his gang, who are far more interesting than Dastan and Tamina; Amar's wit and zest liven up scenes that would otherwise fall flat. Though Prince of Persia is secondary to, say, an Indiana Jones film or even one of the Mummy movies -- well, the first Mummy movie anyway -- this film is still entertaining enough for anyone looking for a fun summer action flick.