Sandstorms and snakes. Ostrich racing and parkour. A magic dagger and a poisoned robe.
Disney’s “Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time” pulls out all the stops to dazzle us, but it’s just another messy, star- studded summer spectacle. Watching a buffed-up Jake Gyllenhaal leap across buildings like an Olympic long jumper and kick butt like Bruce Lee can’t mask the fact that the film was inspired by a video game, not a sweeping historical epic.
Gyllenhaal plays Dastan, a street urchin adopted by a Persian king and raised along with his two ambitious sons, Tus (Richard Coyle) and Garsiv (Toby Kebbell). Determined to prove his own mettle, Dastan leads an assault on a holy city that is supposedly harboring weapons for Persia’s enemies.
During the raid, he finds a glass-handled dagger that turns back time -- a neat trick that, in the wrong hands, can be a tool of world domination. The rest of the movie is basically a hypercharged battle to see who will control the dagger, which has been protected for centuries by the family of bosomy Princess Tamina (Gemma Arterton), who the Persians suspect of hiding the ancient weapons of mass destruction.
When the king is suddenly killed by a poisoned robe, Dastan is accused of the crime and flees through the desert with the princess. Though she’s originally suspicious of the fugitive prince, Tamina and Dastan form an alliance to survive against their deadly pursuers, including his ruthless uncle Nizam (Ben Kingsley), ostrich-breeder Sheik Amar (Alfred Molina) and champion knife-thrower Seso (Steve Toussaint).
The film’s signature special effect involves bringing dead people back to life and permitting other handy do-overs. When someone presses the hilt of the dagger and releases the sands of time, we see a dizzying flash of blurred, overlapping images that eventually rewind into a scene we witnessed moments earlier.
Director Mike Newell is a versatile talent whose work has included romantic comedy (“Four Weddings and a Funeral”), crime thriller (“Donnie Brasco”) and fantasy/adventure (“Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire”). Video-game adaptation doesn’t appear to be his thing.
“Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time,” from Walt Disney Pictures, is playing across the U.S. Rating: **
As a child, his father was killed by a land mine. As an adult, he’s shot in the head by a stray bullet. Understandably, hapless Bazil is no fan of weapons manufacturers.
So, along with a crew of junkyard misfits who take him in when he loses his job and home, the former video-store clerk seeks revenge against the companies that caused him so much grief.
Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s “Micmacs” is a satirical fantasy in which David triumphs over Goliath. While the subject is deadly serious, this French movie is a whimsical delight that recalls the silent-movie charm of Chaplin and Keaton.
Bazil’s partners include Elastic Girl, a contortionist who can fit inside a compact refrigerator; Slammer, who’s survived a faulty guillotine; Tiny Pete, who makes automated sculptures out of metal scraps; the math whiz Calculator and the human cannonball Buster. This gallery of oddballs help Bazil (French comic Dany Boon) take down the weapons profiteers with ingenious plots that will amaze and amuse you.
“Micmacs,” from Sony Pictures Classics, is playing in New York and June 4 in Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Diego, Boston and Chicago. Rating: ***
‘Survival of Dead’
George Romero’s sixth zombie movie, “Survival of the Dead,” is an updated version of the Hatfields and McCoys. Two Irish-American families feud over the best way to deal with the flesh-chomping, living dead who have invaded their small island.
The O’Flynns, led by hard-nosed patriarch Patrick (Kenneth Welsh), want to kill all the zombies on sight. The Muldoons, headed by the more enlightened Shamus (Richard Fitzpatrick), think the creatures should be quarantined while scientists search for a cure.
Patrick, whose clan is badly outnumbered, is exiled to the mainland, where he hooks up with a group of soldiers. They band together and return to the island, where we encounter twin sisters, a lesbian warrior and a horse that may or may not end up as a zombie dinner.
The hideous creatures are dispatched in a number of creative ways, including an exploding fire extinguisher and a cleaver in the head. Unfortunately, we’ve seen this all before in scarier, cleverer “Dead” movies. Maybe it’s time to put the series to sleep.
“Survival of the Dead,” from Magnolia Pictures, is playing in New York and Los Angeles. Rating: **
What the Stars Mean: **** Excellent *** Good ** Average * Poor (No stars) Worthless
(Rick Warner is the movie critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. Opinions expressed are his own.)