In an uncharacteristically optimistic mood, I sauntered forth to the theaters on two separate occasions. And, after viewing both Prince of Persia and Sex and the City 2, I sauntered forth to the bathroom and wept in a stall.
I can’t even blame it on the traditional blockbustery Memorial Day mood — I really wanted to see both Sex and the City 2 and Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time. Both of these movies have their distinct appeal: SATC2 promised to deliver inspiring fashion choices, alluring amounts of skin, and a lot of hot desert action, and Prince of Persia, well…maybe the distinctions between the two films aren’t so numerous after all.
I would come to find out that not only do the two over-inflated films resemble each other in their failure to engage the watcher, but neither could even succeed in delivering the expected exotic visual feast. However, if you stupidly cross the streams like I did and view both within 24 hours, you will make the astonishing discovery that a new form of singularly distressing torture has been born. You just draw your enemy into a dark room with false promises of gratuitous bicep shots, lull them to sleep with a boring script, then sap their remaining will to live by showing them footage of rich people buying other rich people expensive and meaningless gifts.
It’s not that the premise of Prince of Persia is all that bad — many a decent Disney film has sprung from far more shallow origins than a video game (let’s not forget Pirates of the Caribbean, after all). Plus, I’ve seen this video game in action, and while there is plenty of Wiimote-flailing to entertain me, the theatrical aspects of it are just as impressive. It’s not even the casting that’s the problem. Jake Gyllenhaal seems an unlikely candidate for the rugged yet noble Dastan, adopted son of a Persian king who finds himself learning life lessons among treacherous uncles and whatnot, but Gyllenhaal is known for his talent (and, let’s be honest, his face doesn’t exactly hurt his career). He vaults from rooftop to rooftop admirably, evading royal brothers who erroneously believe him to be the murderer of their beloved father, and his English accent is believable enough, I guess. I even enjoyed (and I know this is tough to believe) the occasional glimpses we got of those leather things they insisted on wrapping around his substantial arm muscles.*
No, no, all of that is well and good; it’s simply the deadly combination of a childish script and sloppy directing that digs a hole into the sand and buries any potential this film might have once had. Questionable choices were made, like the filming of close up after close up of Gyllenhaal attempting to wring any sort of emotion out of the plot, the painfully slow editing of jokes that weren’t very funny to begin with, and a hollow, rushed ending that really started to feel like it would never arrive. Princess Tamina (Gemma Arterton), a beautiful monarch with a sacred and royal duty to perform, is feisty yet pliable yet hot, the very thing for a one-dimensional love story. The hapless princess is bought, sold, and ogled so fast that you start to get used to it after awhile, until the happy ending does nothing to change this process. You can activate your special sands and turn back time all you want, it seems, but the lone woman in this film doesn’t get any less pathetic and powerless.
At the time, I found this treatment despicable. But those were the old days, friends and fellow movie-lovers — the happy carefree day that passed after Prince of Persia‘s credits rolled and I thought films couldn’t get any worse. Knowing what I know now, I’m almost tempted to gush on and on about the film’s sophisticated plot points and excellent wit. The lessons were puerile, but they certainly were existent. I didn’t even know how good I had it in that theater with Jake Gyllenhaal and all that sand. But, then, I didn’t know a lot of things before Sex and the City 2.
For instance, did any of you know that you can solve marital issues with the application of jewels? What about the little-known fact that your unease about your husband’s wandering eye can be soothed with the knowledge that the object of his gaze is a lesbian? How about this disturbing fact, then: someone actually believed it would be funny for Samantha to see a hot guy in the desert, assure her friends that he inspires her to feel feelings “down there,” and scream “LAWRENCE OF MY LABIA!” as she collapses into a swoon.
Oh yeah! That happened!
The way I see it is this. Sex and the City 2, like Prince of Persia, had a simple mission. In this case, the mission is to move these four characters farther along in time while still keeping them funny, neurotic, and above all, relatable. That last word may seem a little odd if all you know about SATC is that Carrie wears extreme clothes and Samantha has extreme sex, but the attraction of the show is that Carrie, Samantha, Charlotte, and Miranda represent four different lives packed with realistic obstacles and setbacks. Remember how it used to be cute to try to figure out who was who in your group of friends?** If you based that game on this movie, you’d be trying to decide which one of your friends was the most spoiled, self-indulgent human being in the universe.
Every single thing about this movie is over the top. And not over-the-top courageous, like we’ve come to expect from Samantha’s self-confidence, Charlotte’s optimism, Miranda’s work ethic, and Carrie’s style. Those were things we could admire at some point in our lives. In 2010, now that the four have everything they ever wanted, their lives just revolve around shuffling money to and fro, putting on a different evening gown every hour, and bemoaning the fact that their spouses are too tired to go to the latest red-carpet premiere.
In the first film, director/writer Michael Patrick King showed that his finger was a lot closer to the pulse as he explored the four’s various reactions to and opinions on settling down. Carrie was brought down a notch as her husband recoiled from her excessive ways. The emphasis should be on the relationship between individuals, the movie said, not trying to outdo everyone else with a wedding. Yeah, they have access to some nicer stuff now, it went on to tell us, but they shouldn’t lose sight of the same realities that the rest of us are going through. There was an awkward part, though, remember that? When Jennifer Hudson showed up, things got really cheesy, and product after product was relentlessly pushed upon us in a small amount of time?
Expand that to a punishing 2.5 hours, and you’ve got your sequel. Even the constant rotation of Carrie’s cool frigging costumes, admittedly a big chunk of the franchise’s appeal, are so ridiculous that they’re almost not even worth looking at. When all you see are parades of bright, daring necklines, they all start to look the same. To make matters worse, the film’s climax, a silly few minutes that my friend Emily*** aptly identified as something akin to an “I Love Lucy” episode, reveals that women in Abu Dhabi are slowly beginning to embrace the American zeal for consumerism and largesse! Has anyone who had anything to do with this movie been paying attention to the state of the world for the past ten years?
There’s so much more to say — the worse than usual puns, abundance of boring reaction shots, the use of a woman’s decision to keep her name as a measurement of her commitment level**** — but if you’ve made it this far, you’re in serious danger of feeling the effects of the PoP/SATC American Torture Device for yourself, and I wouldn’t subject anyone to that particular horror.
In sum, spend your summer in better company. You’ve got Iron Man 2, you’ve got Shrek, you’ve got ovens to stick your head into — many pleasing diversions with which to occupy your time. Plus, it’s just not worth the risk that you’ll begin an obsession with leather Persian muscle straps. The Google searches for those are a lot less exciting than you might think.
(Prince of Persia: 2 stars; Sex and the City 2: 1 star)
*Ask anyone who’s talked to me in the last two days, and they will confirm that I have made up a little skit in which all the other Persian guys are yelling for Dastan to come play their game or fight their battle (I haven’t really fleshed that part out) and he’s going, “Wait, hang on! I just have to wrap this thing over….just one more time around the…OK that’s eight, nine, ten, eleven leather revolutions around the bicep! Ha, nice work, old boy! OK what were we doing?”
**I’m a Carrie/Miranda hybrid, myself.
***She’s really a Charlotte with a little Miranda in there.
****It’s an offensive and outdated yardstick, not to mention completely untrue. I believe you’ll find that my spouse-of-a-different-last-name agrees. (Oh, and he’s definitely an Aidan.)