As sword-and-sandal fantasy movies based on videogames and starring a buffed-up Jake Gyllenhaal go, Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time goes pretty well. Gyllenhaal plays the grown-up Prince Dastan, adopted as a resourceful street kid by a sixth-century Persian king. Stained a rich George Hamilton teak in adulthood and bravely committed to a hairstyle reminiscent of Facebook-friendless Kip Drordy on South Park, Dastan has two nobly born stepbrothers: Tus (Richard Coyle as the square-featured and hesitant one) and Garsiv (Toby Kebbell as the toothy and bellicose one). Together, they receive counsel from their wily uncle Nazim (Ben Kingsley wearing eyeliner, so beware). On Nazim's recommendation, the brothers attack the holy city of Alamut, with fateful consequences. Dastan forms an instant rom-com sparring connection with the Alamutian princess Tamina (Gemma Arterton). The princess is serious about her duties as guardian of the dagger that contains a travel-size sample of the legendary sands with which a human can turn back time. Arterton, a current Brit It actress, favors rock-star eye makeup and a mall-teen pout to express Tamina's deAvotion to weapons and sand.
Lots more stuff happens to these game-board characters, as fans of Jordan Mechner's popular Prince of Persia videogame already know. To the credit of director Mike Newell (drawing on his Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire wrangling skills), a conclave of screenwriters who keep the dialogue on the sharp side, and the life's-a-game instincts of producer Jerry Bruckheimer, all that Arabian Nights-like stuff unfolds at a brisk, well-paced clip. Also, the producers had the bright idea of encouraging indispensable Alfred Molina (An Education) to cut loose as Sheikh Amar, a vibrant wheeler-dealer reminiscent of Sydney Greenstreet in Casablanca. I wish the movie weren't so visually junky-looking, and that the CGI action sequences (involving sand, and weapons, and the possible destruction of the world) weren't so vacant. But hey, this is what a videogame movie looks like now. I know I can't turn back time. B