The "Prince of Persia" video game franchise -- first launched in 1989 -- features a nimble hero who leaps, swings and flips around myriad obstacles while clashing scimitars with an array of ill-tempered miscreants. The new film features, well, exactly the same thing.
And although the Disney flick suffers from a silly plot and one-dimensional characters, it avoids the cinematic purgatory most video game adaptations tumble into. A strong cast (led by the charming Jake Gyllenhaal), excellent visual effects, top-notch choreography and fast-paced action all help make "Prince" a royally entertaining adventure.
Dastan (Gyllenhaal) is a former orphan who was taken in by the Persian king after demonstrating courage and nobility as a child. Now grown, Dastan leads the charge when the king's brother (Sir Ben Kingsley as Nizam) accuses peaceful neighbor country Alamut of conspiring against Persia. And Alamut's alluring leader, princess Tamina (newcomer Gemma Arterton), is desperate to protect a sacred dagger with divine powers -- a dagger that ends up in Dastan's possession.
The siege of Alamut backfires on Dastan when the king is murdered, seemingly at Dastan's hands. Dastan and Tamina are quickly on the run, taking to the dunes and hunted down by Dastan's own countrymen. Dastan struggles to prove his innocence as the mystery of the dagger and its magical "sands of time" are unveiled. With the help of bombastic entrepreneur Sheik Amar (Alfred Molina) and knife-throwing native Seso (Steve Toussaint), Dastan and Tamina hope to find the king's real killer and bring peace back to Persia.
Big kudos to Gyllenhaal for getting into excellent shape for this physically demanding role. Gyllenhaal is every bit the noble hero -- he emits an innocent sympathy that makes Dastan a thoroughly likable protagonist. Arterton is hit and miss, as her performance opposite Gyllenhaal shines much more than when she's matched up with other actors.
The real treat is Molina, who serves up the requisite comic relief with aplomb. His witty dialogue has modern undertones and his presence gives the film an essential spark.
Good costuming, cinematography, music and set design help paint a detailed (albeit Disney-fied) portrait of sixth-century Persia. The impressive effects and barrage of stunts give "Prince" a theme-park feel (a la "Pirates of the Caribbean"), diluting the already weak plot but boosting the fun factor. Don't be shocked to see a "Prince of Persia" ride debut at Disneyland in the not-too-distant future.
The summer movie season is officially here, and it's starting in the sun and sand.