How to Watch: “Prince of Persia”

Step 1: Just go with the flow. Prince of Persia is the sort of popcorn-eating, mindless actioner you’d expect for the summer, made only slightly more appealing by Jake Gyllenhaal’s performance.

Step 2: Don’t play the video game first. As video-gaming adaptations go, Persia’s story isn’t half bad, even if it’s a little convoluted. In a cross between Aladdin and The Time Machine, the story follows Dastan, a desert street urchin whose courage and spunk impresses the king of Persia so much he adopts the boy. And when the boy (Gyllenhaal) grows up, he becomes a worthy prince — feisty, smart, agile and pure of heart. But when Dastan’s falsely accused of poisoning his dear father, he finds himself on the run with Tamina (Gemma Arterton), a princess who had been captured when the Persians overtook her city. She’s only looking to protect the dagger that holds the Sands of Time, a gift from the gods that can reverse time and allow its possessor to rule the world, which Dastan now possesses. So, Dastan discovers the mysteries of the dagger, finds out who really killed dad, partakes into a few action sequences — you know the drill from this point on.

Step 3: Realize Jake has some moves. Let’s just say, Persia isn’t much different from what you’ve seen in the trailer, save for seeing Gyllenhaal’s performance in total. He definitely outshines the material, but doesn’t necessarily dumb it down for the mass pop. The actor keeps his integrity, for the most part, infusing his Dastan with a wry sense of humor, genuine reactions — and a whole lot of Parkouring. I read Gyllenhaal took to the French physical discipline like a duck to water and performed most of the movie’s stunts himself. Arterton, too, did a few stunts herself and can now be tagged as the mythical go-to girl this year with Persia and Clash of the Titans. Ben Kingsley plays the dastardly Uncle Nizam, going over the top, as he’s wont to do in these type roles. One wonders when the superb British actor is going to rid himself of these foolish big-budget shenanigans and settle in on another excellent indie film. The other standout, though, is Alfred Molina, who can go from an indie film, such as An Education, to commercial fluff in a blink of an eye — and be totally engaging in both. In Persia, he plays a wise-ass desert con man whose likes to set up ostrich races. Good stuff.

Step 4: Eat your popcorn. As summer fare goes, Persia fits right in, but surprisingly, the film is directed by Mike Newell, whose best known for the rom-com Four Weddings and a Funeral. I suppose his experience with the fourth Harry Potter, The Goblet of Fire must have turned him on to make-believe and action. At least Newell keeps the narrative and pacing in line. But, as for the tone and theme, you can sum up Persia with two words: Jerry Bruckheimer. The actioner has the producer’s fingerprints all over it. Not too thought-provoking or even substantial, but entertaining nonetheless.

Level of difficulty in watching Prince of Persia: Pretty easy, but you’ll forget it the moment you exit the theater.