Earnest Prince of Persia hate seems almost nonexistent out there. People who should know better seem to be sighing and shrugging and going, “Oh God…effin’ Bruckheimer again. What are we supposed to do? We can’t keep fighting the same battle over and over. We’re getting tired.” Bruckheimer, in other words, appears to be winning simply because he keeps on coming. “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” — quote from British philosopher Edmund Burke.

“For twenty years, audiences have been noticing the similarity between big action and fantasy movies and video games,” writes New Yorker critic David Denby, “but Prince of Persia goes beyond similarity; it actually feels like a video game.

“In order to work the dagger, you press a red jewel on the hilt, which suspiciously resembles a button on a game controller. After a while, backward motion ceases, and life goes forward again. The first time this happens, the effect is rather neat. By the third time, you think that the filmmakers have found a convenient way to avoid the difficulties of constructing a plot that makes emotional sense. Is this the future of screenwriting?

“As usual, the ancient world speaks with an Oxbridge accent. Sturdy players, fresh from triumphs in Shaw and Beckett, stand around in turbans and robes and say such lines as ‘Wise words, little brother’ and ‘In Alamut rests the beating heart of all life.’ The classy British diction is yet another luxury item. Even Jake Gyllenhaal, leaping about with a messy wet do and bulging shoulders, speaks like a gent walking down the Strand. Gyllenhaal gets linked up with Gemma Arterton, as Princess Tamina, the guardian of the dagger.

“Tamina is the kind of sexy, bare-midriff role that Debra Paget specialized in fifty years ago (she was the devastating Sharain in Omar Khayyam), though Paget fans will be disappointed that Arterton does nothing comparable to her lethally funny naked-with-diamonds snake dance in Fritz Lang‘s The Indian Tomb. (Hint to lascivious moviegoers: it’s on YouTube.)

“Instead, Arterton plays Tamina as a saucy young thing, and she and Gyllenhaal, like every couple in a romantic comedy, snap at each other relentlessly while slowly falling in love. The movie is pitched to adolescents, but the kids in the audience groan when the two draw near yet don’t kiss, only to lock lips, at last, just before fadeout.

“[Director] Mike Newell has made solid movies — Four Weddings and a Funeral, Donnie Brasco — but what he does here feels more like traffic management than like direction. Even the pop-Orientalist scenes that should be scary fun just skitter off the screen in a rush of action.”