Have no fear: Alfred Molina, as an ostrich-racing entrepreneur, more than makes up for this absence, laying comedic-relief shtick on thick while simultaneously spouting more leaden ripped-from-the-headlines allusions than this flippant fable can withstand. Hot-topic currents course throughout Prince of Persia's initial battle, as Dastan helps his brothers-in-arms conquer a fortified sacred city only to discover that — holy Green Zone! — the weapons-manufacturing facilities they sought to destroy don't exist. These lame political overtones immediately clash with the action's cartoonishness.
Prince of Persia charts Dastan's efforts to clear his name after he's fingered for his father's assassination, a mission aided by strong-willed princess Tamina (Clash of the Titans beauty Gemma Arterton) and a magic blade that, fueled by divine sand the Gods once used to try to exterminate mankind, gives those who wield it the ability to travel one minute back in time. Faithfully resembling the acrobatic video-game protagonist upon whom he's based, Gyllenhaal's blandly roguish Dastan carries out his quest by leaping, swinging, and scurrying about marketplaces and crumbling ruins with pogo-stick parkour agility, and the newly muscular actor — though still too sweet and amicable a presence to radiate genuine ass-kicking machismo — carries out his derring-do with engaging proficiency. Yet Newell, he of Four Weddings and a Funeral, is ill-suited to steward such sword-and-sandals adventure, his direction — while slightly eschewing modern genre practitioners' penchant for slicing-and-dicing skirmishes into visual incoherence — is too pedestrian and partial to clumsy slow-mo effects to truly energize the story.
Despite tossed-off gibberish about father-son bonds, nominal intrigue regarding who framed Dastan, and faux-suspense over when he and Tamina will stop bickering and start sucking face, it's the supernatural blade that receives the lion's share of attention from Newell and his digital artist accomplices: The weapon's use results in twirly camera movements and Dastan's skin being infected with volcanic light. These scraps of moderately inspired eye candy remain sparse and incapable of lending weight to such cash-my-paycheck material. Nowhere is that more pronounced than with Dastan's uncle, Nazim, who is embodied with disinterest by Sir Ben Kingsley, and whose stone-faced evilness is expressed via a bald head and jet-black goatee that positions the stodgy scoundrel as a mini-me Ming the Merciless.