This weekend's movies: "Prince of Persia: Sands of Time" and "Letters to Juliet."
"PRINCE OF PERSIA SANDS OF TIME" ain't no "300." The ancient Greeks win again. In the opening scene, before you've had any chance to learn who anyone is or why you should care about anything that happens, the film's "heroes" commit a massacre and invasion of an innocent, spiritually advanced civilization. Hard to care about these characters.
Jake Gyllenhaal is sexy and appealing, almost Errol-Flynn-like. Ben Kingsley could not give a bad performance if he tried. Campy Alfred Molina has some laugh-out-loud funny lines as an anti-tax "entrepreneur" and ostrich race organizer. Steve Toussaint is impressive as a Sudanese knife-thrower. But that's it. Their best bits add up to about five minutes. Otherwise the movie is cluttered, meaningless, and boring.
"PRINCE OF PERSIA" is orientalist in a way that feels unacceptable for 2010, even in a movie based on a video game. Every cliché of the Middle East is piled into the movie, junkyard style – whirling dervishes, sand dunes, camels, women for sale, the Hashshashin, Arabic – whether these items fit in sixth-century Persia or not. Do we really need to gratuitously toy with others' histories and cultures at a time when the current leader of Persia, or Iran, is talking about getting nukes to wipe Israel off the map?
"LETTERS TO JULIET" is a sweet, nice, mildly enjoyable movie with absolutely no magic or spark. Sophie, an aspiring New Yorker writer, travels to Verona, Italy and discovers the charming custom of lovelorn women writing letters to Juliet, of Shakespeare's "Romeo and Juliet." She has a life-changing encounter with Vanessa Redgrave. How could you go wrong with this plot? This should have been a classic. The script and direction merely plod, where they should sparkle and glow.
Amanda Seyfried and Christopher Egan, the film's leads, are stunningly good looking, healthy, young, blonds, with perfect teeth. They are also both completely without charisma here. I actually found both irritating to look at. If this had been a zombie film, these are the ones you would root for to be eaten first.
Vanessa Redgrave is beatific. You bask in her performance, wishing the rest of the film could live up to her gift. Gael Barcia Bernal is brilliant as a very annoying man. From the first second he's onscreen, he let's you know exactly who he is, and why you will relish his ultimate fate. *That's* acting! Italy's picturesque tourist spots are indeed picturesque, but not filmed with any penetration or grace. I've seen postcards that capture Italy better.