This is what the movies used to be, an action movie that doesn’t take itself seriously and is a lot of fun. The plot, based on a video game, uses as its MacGuffin a magic knife that can reverse time and, allegedly, allow its possessor to rule the world. Naturally, everybody wants it (remember the Maltese Falcon?). A prince, Daston (Jake Gyllenhaal), reluctantly joins forces with the princess of Alamut, Tamina (Gemma Arterton), whose kingdom he has just conquered, and while romantic sparks flow they work together, and at cross purposes to get it, or retain it, or, whatever. Dastan is being chased by his brothers and their army he wants to prove his innocence because they think he killed their father, or do they? The point is that it makes just enough sense to be entertaining.
Gyllenhaal is a handsome dude, who laughs at danger, always with a smile upon his face. Arterton is gorgeous, also with a slight smile that indicates she’s laughing at Daston and her fate, regardless of the impossible situations into which he thrusts her. To top it off, they are both good actors. Gyllenhaal’s parkour puts one in mind of Douglas Fairbanks in The Mark of Zorro (1920), The Three Musketeers (1921), Robin Hood (1922), and others. The difference is that Fairbanks, a trained acrobat, performed all of his deeds of derring-do himself without modern aids. Gyllenhaal is aided by wires and special effects to do the impossible things he’s pictured doing.
There are a lot of enjoyable visual effects in this film, but perhaps the best is the creation of the fictional city of Alamut. Production designer Wolf Kroeger took Tamesloht, a dusty, unpaved village, twenty kilometers southwest of Marrakesh, consisting of a few shops, a few dwellings, and walls of an ancient kasbah estimated to be 700 years old and turned it into a huge city containing a magnificent square with a Taj Mahal–like palace rising 50 feet above the ground. Streets abound with mind-blowing architectural and decorative detail. I thought this the most amazing effect of the movie. It’s hard to believe that it was all computer generated. There are lots of shots of Alamut and they are almost as enjoyable as the shots of the gorgeous Arterton, who is filmed with elaborate care to enhance her natural beauty.
The film is admirably directed by Mike Newell with a cast that includes Ben Kingsley, who plays Dastan’s uncle Nizam, and Alfred Molina, who plays the charming Sheikh Amar.
Advertised as a dark comedy, this film with a fine cast that includes Cillian Murphy, Jim Broadbent, Brendan Gleeson, and the voice of Gabriel Byrne, isn’t funny enough to be a comedy, nor tense enough to be a thriller. Murphy is in debt to Gleeson, an Irish hood, and is told he will have two bones broken if he doesn’t pay 1,000 pounds within 24 hours. As he casts around to find the money, his relationships with the girl he adores, Jodie Whitaker, who gives a fine performance, and his parents, Broadbent and his unseen mother, are explored. Even though the film trivializes violence, the story presents possibilities as a farce. Unfortunately, director Ian Fitzgibbon fails to achieve the level that might been possible for a director like Frank Oz (the original Death at a Funeral in 2007).