"Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time" is silky to the touch, but slips from the mind all too easily. Based loosely on a series of popular videogames, producer Jerry Bruckheimer's passably enjoyable, antiquity-themed epic should satisfy its young male core demographic well enough, but won't connect with other auds on the level of Bruckheimer's "Pirates of the Caribbean" franchise. Mike Newell's workmanlike helming is no embarrassment, but pic's lack of game-changing originality, distinguishing anarchic streak or 3D wow factor may relegate this to summertime also-ran status.
From its opening moments -- as mock-medieval subtitles foretell lives shaped by destiny and a map of ancient Persia shows the empire's scale -- "Prince" feels resolutely old-fashioned. Until Alfred Molina shows up as a comic-relief proto-libertarian half-way through, the script lacks the deliberately anachronistic, tongue-in-cheek humor auds have come to expect from big-budget period productions. Remove the state-of-the-art f/x, and "Prince" would look of a piece with the 1924 Douglas Fairbanks version of "The Thief of Bagdad." It's more throwback than retro refit.
That said, the script credited to Boaz Yakin, Doug Miro and Carlo Bernard (based on a story by Jordan Mechner, who created the original games) smuggles in one major contempo subtext: The whole plot hinges on the fact that the baddie has tricked the Persian Army into invading the city of Alamut because its denizens are supposedly smuggling weapons of minor destruction (basically swords) to Persia's enemies. The film's cloudy allegory about the current war in Iraq might spark some debate, but on the surface, its message about brotherhood is much more anodyne.
When young street-rat Dastan (Will Foster) catches the eye of King Sharaman (Ronald Pickup) in the city market, the king raises Dastan as his own son (he grows up to be Jake Gyllenhaal), alongside his natural-born sons Garsiv (Toby Kebbell), the empire's good-hearted heir, and the more belligerent Tus (Richard Coyle). Sharaman's brother Nizam (Ben Kingsley, wearing eyeliner and a sneer borrowed from Jafar in "Aladdin") acts as a shadowy adviser to the court.
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