The first of this year's summer movies, Prince of Persia, is produced by Jerry Bruckheimer, the master of the visually slick, action-packed but sexless modern blockbuster aimed at pre-adolescent boys. Like so many recent movies, it is based on a video game. It is perhaps because of this that it is less engaging than the films it draws inspiration from, like The Mummy trilogy, and the Indiana Jones series.
In theory this sword and sorcery flick has a lot going for it, including a big budget that allows for top-notch computer-generated effects, spectacular locations, and soaring physical stunts inspired by parcour, the acrobatic French art of leaping on and off buildings. But it does not engage the mind and heart. There are no lines, scenes or character that remain in your memory after the final credits have rolled.
The film is set in a pre-Islamic "ancient Persia". The empire is ruled by wise king Sharaman who has two sons of his own but has also adopted a street- boy named Dastan (Jake Gyllenhaal). All three boys have grown into young men when, on the advice of the King's sinister brother Nizam (Ben Kingsley in eyeliner), Persia sends its armies to conquer the city of Alamut which is said to be secretly manufacturing weapons for Persia's enemies. Dastan, a master acrobat, plays a key role in the capture of the city which turns out not to have a secret weapons programme at all.
However, he finds an attractive dagger with a crystal hilt which turns out to be Alamat's real secret. It is only when he is forced to flee after being falsely accused of poisoning his father the King, that Dastan realises that the dagger is a magic sacred artefact that gives its possessor the power to turn back time. And he only finds this out because he has fled the city together with Alamat's imperious young ruler, Princess Tamima (Gemma Arterton), who is the hereditary guardian of the dagger. The attractive, bickering couple soon find themselves in great danger. Not only are the armies of the empire after them, but also a sinister force of part-ninja, part-dervish assassins with magical powers, and a gang of comical desert bandits led by Alfred Molina.
As with too many would-be epics of this type, the writing, credited to Boaz Yakin, Doug Miro, Carlo Bernard, never rises above B-grade hackwork. (They do, however, sneak in a gratuitous leftish political message of the kind the McCarthyites used to worry about wrongly in the 1940s.)
Unfortunately for grown-up viewers there is an embarrassing lack of chemistry in Arterton's interactions with Gyllenhaal. For some reason she gives off surprisingly little of the abundant sex appeal evident either her cameo in the James Bond film, A Quantum of Solace.
For his part, Gyllenhaal, despite an impressively chiselled physique, has a slightly hangdog air and a silly rock- star hairstyle that handicap him as a romantic lead. Also, an action role like this one, demands an active, overt charisma that he apparently lacks. On the other hand, the actor's English accent (he is the only American actor in a sea of Brits) is rather impressive - a little estuarine for a prince perhaps, but without a trace of the New World.
The film is directed by Britain's Mike Newell, who has made good films like Four Weddings and a Funeral and Donnie Brascoe. Here he seems unable to overcome the film's origins in the computer game of the same name. One fight scene follows another with metronomic regularity. In between, the exposition is mechanical, and because the pacing does not vary, the film manages to be both fast moving and boring at the same time, if you are above the age of 12. It is one of the strange things about contemporary movies aimed at children that animated films like Up can have so much more material aimed at adults than live-action ones.