Someday videogame movies will have their Ghost World, their American Splendor—a breakout film that will bring a marginalized medium a degree of mainstream recognition. Maybe Jake Gyllenhaal will even star in that movie. But in the meantime, courtesy of Disney and the guy who directed Mona Lisa Smile, videogames make another predictably awkward transition to the big screen in Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time—a movie whose primary selling points are Gyllenhaal's admittedly compelling abs.
Gyllenhaal plays one of the three princes of Persia, an orphan plucked as a boy from the streets by the king and raised as a brother to the king's two sons. When the king is gruesomely killed by a poisoned cloak (oh, the sentences get sillier), Gyllenhaal is blamed—even though the real bad guy is obviously the bald uncle (Ben Kingsley). Never trust a bald uncle, guys.
Gyllenhaal flees the scene of the king's death with quite a to-do list: He has approximately 80 minutes to clear his name, win over a grumpy princess, and prevent his uncle from unleashing a killer sandstorm by stabbing a giant underground hourglass with a magical dagger. The magical dagger also has the power to turn back time—goodbye narrative tension, hello awkward CG time-travel sequences!
While it'd be delusional to expect much in the way of plot or character development from a movie in which the "sands of time" are taken so literally, it should be safe to assume that a $200 million budget would at least translate to some decent effects. Not so. Persia is notably chintzy looking—jumbled action sequences, lurching crowd shots, and excitement-sapping slow-mo fight sequences conspire to wilt whatever action-movie boner you may have been nurturing.
And for those whose Persia lust is a little less abstract, let's return for a second to the question of Gyllenhaal's abs. For all the media attention they've received (he cultivated his torso, he claimed in an interview, by "washing his hair"), Gyllenhaal's tummy in fact spends most of Prince of Persia demurely tucked under several layers of vest, tunic, and whatever the white shirts they wear on the covers of romance novels are called. There are few men in this world crying out for objectification quite so insistently as Gyllenhaal. Suffice to say that opportunities for glistening, flexing, and slow-motion body pans were missed.
There's some degree of camp here—tipped into utter absurdity at one point by the inclusion of a running ostrich gag—but Persia is neither bad enough to laugh at nor clever enough to laugh with. But really, what'd you expect? It's based on a videogame, after all.