Dave on film: crass comedy or rollicking adventure?

Whether you’re feeling in the mood for an asinine, crass comedy or a rollicking adventure film that’s sure to be one of the blockbusters of the summer, I’ve got you covered with MacGruber and Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time.

Review: Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time

Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time is the first big blockbuster to come out for the summer season. It’s tremendous fun, non-stop action and an adventure film with an appealing story. I not only enjoyed it but kept wondering when I could get a Blu-Ray copy so I could really step through some of the scenes and see how they were assembled. I bet you’re going to like it, too.

The film starts with Dastan (William Foster), a beggar boy living by his wits in the bazaar in Persia, getting caught for stealing. Seconds before he’s to be punished for his thievery, the King of Persia (Ronald Pickup) appears and, seeing a hero within Dastan, stops the punishment and instead has him move into the palace as an adopted son. Zoom forward 15 years or so and now-adult Dastan (Jake Gyllenhaal) is joining his royal brothers Prince Tus (Richard Coyle) and Prince Garsiv (Toby Kebbell) on an assault on the holy city of Alamut. With them is long-trusted family advisor Uncle Nizam (Ben Kingsley).

The assault of the city, a combination of swordfights, archery and Parkour, is truly thrilling, and watching Gyllenhaal swing, swoop and leap from building to building is great fun. Turns out that it’s also surprisingly true to the original video game: Prince of Persia actually started out as a late 80s video game for MS-DOS and Apple II computers. The reasons for the attack are suspect and soon Dastan is on the run, a victim of palace intrigue, Princess Tamina of Alamut (Gemma Arterton) in tow.

Produced by Jerry Bruckheimer, Prince of Persia has very much the same feel and pace as Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, except that Prince is a bit more family friendly. There’s also a sweet — and witty — romance between Prince Dastan and the beautiful and strong Princess Tamina, complicated time-travel elements, and a hilarious gem of a performance by Alfred Molina as the savvy, entrepreneurial rogue Sheik Amar that help make Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time one of the best films of 2010.

As befits a film based on a video game, the performances in Prince of Persia are a bit larger than life, particularly the dastardly rogue that Kingsley plays. He’s a great actor, but the entire cast did a splendid job creating a straightforward adventure movie that eschews moral ambiguity and character development for action and stunts. It’s the genre, and it’s fun.

The film isn’t without its flaws, however. One of the most surprising glitches was that many of the long shots were obviously computer generated, and looked more like a video game than a multi-million-dollar special effect. The ending was a bit confusing too, when the magical Daggar of Time that let Prince Dastan travel through time paired with the enormous underground Sands of Time pillar. There’s also some debate about having a non-Arab actor in the lead role, but Gyllenhaal does a great job and I think it’s just knee-jerk political correctness. In my eyes it’s a complete non-issue.

What I most liked about this film was the mythos of the poor boy with the heart of gold who becomes a prince. At one point, King Sharaman reminds Dastan “The boy I saw in that square was capable of being more than good, of being great.” Doesn’t every boy dream of secretly being a hero? Harry Potter is a similar story and it’s no surprise that Prince director Mike Newell previously directed one of the Potter films (The Goblet of Fire).

Speaking of films that were inspiration for Prince of Persia, there’s definitely an Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom scene and the core story has more than a passing nod to Aladdin, another Disney property.

The film is rated PG-13, though I predict there’ll be a lot of children in the theater. That rating feels a bit too restrictive, speaking as the father of a 13-year-old and 10 year-old: It’s a fast-paced action film with some intense fight scenes, but I’d suggest that perhaps PG-10 or so would be a better rating, if only the MPAA had such a thing.

Review: MacGruber

It’s probably not a good sign to start a review by saying that the film wasn’t anywhere near as bad or as stupid as I was afraid it’d be, but that’s exactly how I felt after the end credits of the new Saturday Night Live spin-off MacGruber. Crude and sophomoric, it still had lots of laughs and a surprisingly polished appearance, coupled with amusingly over-the-top performances from some decent actors.

The story line is something or other about a nuclear missile, the X5, stolen by thuggish bad guys from a military convey in Siberia. Their mastermind? The evil Dr. Dieter Von Cunth (Val Kilmer), who has nefarious plans to, bwahahaha, blow up the world! Of course, in a parody film as crass as this 99 minute movie by first time director Jorma Taccone the story doesn’t really matter that much. It’s all about the sight gags and the one liners, and MacGruber doesn’t disappoint.

Will Forte is MacGruber, a retired special forces operative who previously served as an Army Ranger, Navy SEAL, Army Green Beret and was awarded 16 purple hearts, 3 Congressional Medals of Honor and more. Problem is, he’s a complete idiot and everything he gets involved with goes sideways and often results in innocent bystanders dying. A newspaper headline flashes by at the beginning of the film “MacGruber stops terrorist cell, 200 civilians casualties” and that’s about the sensibility of the entire film.

If you’ve seen any action films in the last decade, you’ll recognize cliche scenes and dialog that keeps the film moving along, even as some of the scenes are rather, um, indelicate. Still, I laughed quite a bit during the film, and, yes, cringed once or twice too.

In the first part of the movie, MacGruber pulls together a team of tough, hulking men to be part of his crack military force, his “dream team”, in a sequence that pays wry homage to The Dirty Dozen and any number of other “let’s reassemble the team for one last job” scenes. They don’t quite have the chance to be involved, so his second team is a former lover stuck in the 70s Vicki St. Elmo (Kristen Wiig) and a young officer Lt. Dixon Piper (Ryan Phillippe).

The dialog throughout the film sounds exactly as you would expect, as if it’s written by a team of gag writers from a late night TV show.

Their military liaison is Colonel James Faith (Powers Boothe), who keeps trying to boot MacGruber off the case of the missing nuclear weapon. At times, you can see Boothe has a hard time keeping a straight face, and we can only wonder what was going on behind the scenes.

Lest you think this is all family fare and a fun, silly comedy, I will warn you that there’s a reason this film has an “R” rating. There are more profanities than an Eddie Murphy standup routine, and the sexual references and, um, celery scenes are definitely not for the younger crowd. If there’s such a thing as a “beer movie” (as in “drink a few before you go to the theater”), then this is it.

A film like MacGruber is what I consider a guilty pleasure. It’s not great cinema, it’s not even something you’re going to watch more than once, and it has enough crude scenes that you’d be embarrassed to have your parents see it inadvertently, but as I said at the beginning, it was pretty darn funny and sarcastic. If that’s your thing, go for it!
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