Jake Gyllenhaal, a versatile and easygoing chameleon of an actor, adds another notch on his gun (or sword) and another number on his IMDb entry, warrior division, with this popcorn epic. In Jarhead, he arrived with hair shorn and stewing in Desert Storm ennui. Here, his hair is long and flailing in another desert, the real and imagined desert of ancient Persia, where he plays a native with an English accent (following the perverse rule of semi-imperialistic linguistic logic whereby any film taking place outside America, sans subtitles, can be deemed exotic with a flash of British accents).
He’s an orphan who could be king, elevated to the royal clan and drawn into a dastardly scheme to kill the emperor and steal the throne. For much of the film, Gyllenhaal’s wrongly accused Dastan is in flight, expertly wielding swords and other blade-running weapons, and delaying as long as possible the first tender kiss with the lovely and tough princess Tamina (Gemma Arterton). Add to the mix another villainous role by Ben Kingsley, who long ago tossed in his Gandhi towel, and a deus ex machina subplot regarding a magical dagger which can reverse the sands of time—handy for killing off and then kicking in a “just kidding” narrative clause—and you have a shameless fun entertainment package.
Did we mention that the film is based on the video game of the same name? That would help explain the almost nervously pyrotechnical pacing and dynamics of the film (not to mention its CGI-enabled crumbling landscapes and obviously Photoshopped grandeur).
Yes, it is summertime, and this is a summer box-office contender aimed at the proverbial entire family, and cinematic art takes a backseat this time around, for both Gyllenhaal and director Mike Newell. Newell was behind not only the crowd-pleasing comedy Four Weddings and a Funeral but also small artful films like Dance with a Stranger, Soursweet, and Donnie Brasco, but here he goes for the gusto and the big-budget guns, on a Jerry Bruckheimer, senses-blazing blockbuster. Just add popcorn and some extra cash for buying the video game on the way home.