Gyllenhaal Plays Sole Diamond in Rough ‘Prince’

While accordion monkey Johnny Depp is on hiatus until the fourth “Pirates” installment, mega-producer Jerry Bruckheimer is trading in the Caribbean for ancient Persia in his latest kid-friendly action flick, “Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time.” But it seems — with a tendency to drown itself in prolonged action sequences rather than explore new sands — “Prince” may just find itself in Davy Jones’ locker even sooner than Captain Jack.

Based loosely on a 2003 video game of the same name, “Prince” opens in the desert dunes of sixth-century Persia. Orphaned street rat Dastan (Will Foster) catches the eye of King Sharaman (Ronald Pickup) in the marketplace, and — after being adopted — soon matures into the buff-biceped Jake Gyllenhaal.

Like the prince of Egypt, this prince is raised with the King’s natural-born sons, while Sharaman’s brother Nizam (Ben Kingsley) serves as token shady advisor to the court, ever-aloof and draped with ulterior motives.

When the Persians lay siege to Alamut (a scene loaded in maximum CGI glory), Dastan snags the Dagger of Time. Unbeknownst to him, when the ruby on its hilt is pressed, the dagger reverses the passage of time.

Princess Tamina of Alamut (Gemma Arterton) begins to unravel the mythological significance of the dagger — meanwhile falling in love, Disney-style, with Dastan, after an abundance of not-so-witty hard-to-get banter. When Dastan is wrongly accused of the king’s death, the tentative lovers band together to keep the dagger from villainous hands that could bring on a sandstorm capable of obliterating the world. Cue histrionic strings of doom with the metronomic precision of a snoozing alarm clock.

For all his Spidey moves across the rooftops of a makeshift Agrabah, Dastan gets stuck in the quicksand of one-dimensionality — both in personality and physique. His chiseled abs, in particular, make their fair share of appearances from behind that breastplate armor.

The script is chock full of sayings like “Consider the advice of council, but always listen to your heart” — a bit too syrupy to forgive. Aside from subliminal references to the war in Iraq and sprinkled pejoratives describing Persians as as “brutal without honor” and “camel-riding illiterates,” the film largely divorces itself from its titular culture. The entirely non-Persian cast speaks strictly in an Oxbridge accent — because, in case you never learned, ancient Persia apparently thought Brit-speak was classier than American English (or maybe that’s just director Mike Newell).

Although “Prince” plays off the same tropes that catapulted “Pirates” to success, it never quite strikes the same heartstring. There are running gags and double entendres involving Gyllenhaal’s dagger, but the lack of an all-in-one character as charismatic as Captain Jack — combined with an overdose of deus ex machina — renders “Prince” little more than a failed mashup of the “Pirates” formula.

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