Directed by Mike Newell
Starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Gemma Arterton, Ben Kingsley, Alfred Molina
At first, I thought that this movie was trying to outdo Brokeback Mountain in the homo-erotic delights. Having seen more of Jake Gyllenhaal’s chest hair than I ever wanted to see in the first 15 minutes, I certainly do long for the days when Bruce Willis just wore a wife-beater shirt and slacks while crawling around the Nakatomi building. Despite recent trends with the movie 300, real men keep their shirts on.
Thankfully, he finds a shirt before they raid the sacred city of Almut. Gyllenhaal’s character, Dastan, is the adopted son of the ill-fated king Sharaman. He has two other sons, loyal and clueless, and Ben Kingsley for a brother. There should be a rule about allowing the Sexy Beast to be in a movie playing someone close to the top of the chain of command. No matter how noble he appears, you know he is going to be the ruthless demagogue before the credits roll. A great actor, producers need to start looking for others to fill this role, since it appears that Kingsley, like Anthony Hopkins, will sacrifice prestige for a handsome paycheck every third movie.
So when the sacred city is raided, Dastan, being told he is too young (which is weird for someone who looks 30), has naturally disobeyed his mandate to stay behind and, lo and behold, is the key to the success of the raid. Enter Princess Tamina (Arterton) and her prized dagger. Dastan picks up the dagger along the way and then chaos (not of his doing) ensues.
The noble King is dead, of course, seemingly by his grateful adopted son, and Dastan is forced to beat it out of town with the Princess in tow. Along the way, he discovers the secret of the dagger, which turns back time, and then is promptly captured by Alfred Molina’s Sheik Amar, who under the pretense of being a rough gang leader, really just likes to race ostriches. He and his African knife throwing friend Seso offer a detour at first, then comic relief help later. Seso does the real heavy lifting in this movie. In his case, the brother may not necessarily die first, but he sure gets many chances to.
For his part, Gyllenhaal’s Dastan provides some nice, casual assuredness as a noble, slightly goofy, and always inventive protagonist. Arterton is game as the damsel. Their back and forth is quite typical of the type of movie. They have a playfully charming chemistry that transcends the material, but only by a little.
Helping profusely is the decidedly entertaining direction of Mike Newell, working under the always excellent production of Jerry Bruckheimer. As a result, the effects are clear, the dialogue is crisp, and the pace is brisk enough that you don’t spend too much time thinking about the threadbare video game plot and the convoluted explanation behind the power of the dagger. In the end though, I felt like I had seen probably the best Indiana Jones movie since the original, but that is not saying much.
Still, nothing here does more than make this movie slightly above average. It won’t necessarily be wasted time, but it won’t help you learn anything about life, either. But who needs to learn about life on a Friday night?