Disney has clearly set its eyes on creating a land-locked version of its Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, so it’s no surprise that this movie comes out feeling like the blueprint for an amusement park roller coaster set amongst the sand dunes. Since money needs to go to sprockets, protein shakes for Jake, co-promotions, jumping-jack stage sets, and posters, there must have been little left to spend on a script, so they’ve apparently lifted this one whole cloth from the Laura Croft franchise and substituted a little bit of Sephardic boy action to give it that Arabian feeling.
Not too much feeling, however. Leading boy Jake Gyllenhaal creates a Persian persona by adopting an upper-class British accent. Actually, all the characters do, which gave me a bit of cultural vertigo watching this odd cultural mish-mash that thinks its Middle-Eastern setting is the most successfully recreated when it resembles the video-game its based on rather than any actual representation of history or the Middle East.
All that being said, the story set- up isn’t half bad: a wise Persian kind adopts an orphan boy from the market one day (that celebrity habit apparently started early). Dastan become a part of King Sharamon’s family – the youngest of three brothers who, upon growing up, each have their own bone to pick with Dad. There’s also Nazim, King Sharamon’s brother, who lives in the shadow of the King after having saved his life when they were younger. The brothers and uncle are decamped in the hills surrounding Alamut, a holy city housing some mysterious time-bending maguffin that activates the plot. After the capture of Alamut and the looting of the maguffin, Dastan finds himself set up to take the fall for someone else’s plot for power, and this sets the wild chase through the desert in motion.
The rest is well-directed, visually popping predictable summer pabulum, filled with the requisite amount of goofy sidekicks, nefarious villains, and mystical assassins. There’s not much care to be culturally relevant (the assassins are more Ninja than Persian), unless by relevant you mean giving a nod to contemporary politics (there’s a long Tea-Party like discourse about taxes on the small businessman given by an ostrich-racing entrepreneur, which feels completely incongruent. I’m surprised they didn’t name the guy Joseph ben Plumber.)
The aim here seems to be to capture some of the campy fun of the Pirates franchise, but Gyllenhaal is too sincerely goofy to pull that off, and the rest of the cast doesn’t seem to have been let in on the joke. While the film is well edited and there’s some nice swordplay and sorcery action to entertain the kiddies, the whole thing feels a bit like an amusement park dramaturge catering to bored roller-coaster riders waiting for the next car departure. Even the time-bending effects feel a bit like last year’s canned Adobe filter (as does the editing, which has that clichéd tendency to speed up the action in mid-swoop and then pause for a second just before the final jab – like we see now in soda commercials and wrestling ads).
Nothing worth noticing here, then (and there’s only the briefest flash of Gyllenhaal ’s abs if that’s what’s pulling you in), though it does suggest Gyllenhaal might be interesting casting to play against the next Croft number.