In last Sunday's New York Times, producer Jerry Bruckheimer was hailed for his ability to make a movie out of anything — magazine articles (Coyote Ugly), an anecdote about a dancing welder (Flashdance), theme-park rides (Pirates of the Caribbean), you name it. After numerous rewrites and much post-production tinkering, Mike Newell's Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time adds a Wii-game adaptation to that illustrious roster, and not much else.
Thanks to master cinematographer John Seale, it has the visual splendor of the Pirates movies — the amazing Moroccan exteriors help — along with their flashy strobe-cut action sequences and special effects. Unfortunately, neither the casting nor the script matches the movie's technical proficiency. Despite the presence of game creator Jordan Mechner in the writing corps, the screenplay offers too little humor and too many attempts at injecting the sixth century narrative with ill-fitting contemporary edge.
The early scenes establish a backstory for Dastan (a bulked-up Jake Gyllenhaal), the adopted son of the Persian king (Donald Pickup). His courage as a youth not only impresses the ruler but gives him an alternative choice for a successor. But the king badly misjudges the real enemy, his sinister brother Nizam (Ben Kingsley). Soon Dastan finds himself framed in a deceitful scheme and he's forced to flee, accompanied by the mysterious Princess Tamina (Gemma Arterton). Besides clearing his name and discovering the truth, Dastan must also stop Nizam from unleashing the Sands of Time, a sandstorm capable of destroying the world.
If presented with tongue in cheek, this sword-and-sandal saga could have been charming and captivating. Instead, it's needlessly complicated and ponderous, burdened by ham-fisted equations of past and present political deceit. Worse, the movie downplays the romantic attraction between Dastan and Tamina in favor of generic PG-13 mayhem. Despite a Harry Gregson-Williams score that nicely dovetails ancient sounds and modern fare — there's even a tune by noted sixth century Persian troubadour Alanis Morissette — these Sands of Time feel more like quicksand.