While Jerry Bruckheimer's crimes against cinema can be neatly described in one word—G-Force—this does not diminish the fact that he has been the most powerful creative force in Hollywood for the past few decades. While other executives struggle to get one piddly project off the ground every few years or so, Bruckheimer is a one-man mega-production machine—currently with 18 different titles in development (one of them named World War Robot!) and yet another Pirates of the Caribbean in pre-production. This is the kind of guy you'd want running a war: He is single-minded and unstoppable, no matter the cost to his soul.
Bruckheimer wields unlimited power to make any movie he wants, and that typically means one with a big chase scene, several explosions, and a wisecracking hero. From this unremarkable aesthetic, he has captivated a nation and accumulated unimaginable wealth. More than that, he recast the summer movie, taking the original action/effects formula as forged by Lucas and Spielberg and applying mass production techniques to form his own genre: the Bruckheimerian semi-epic. We all know what we're going to get from one of his movies, and we all go to see them every summer anyway.
But can this slight of hand last into the new decade? How many more movies can he make with different titles but bearing the same tropes? National Treasure (I and II), Bad Boys II, Bad Company, Deja Vu, Pearl Harbor, Gone in Sixty Seconds, King Arthur… it all seems like a bad dream now, our lost summers of the noughts (just like the '90s, or the '80s). His latest, Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, is just a reminder of how unrewarding the Bruckheimer factory has been. With the exception of the first Pirates, which rose above mediocrity on the sails of Johnny Depp's fluke performance, his products all follow these predictable rules:
1. The Story Does Not Matter:
Prince of Persia is based on a video game, which would seem like an immediate knock against it, but let's not be hasty. Despite the fact that every version of the game has centered on making your character leap around and slash evil guys with a sword, the setting has always added a dimension of exotic adventure: ancient Persia, in a pre-One Thousand and One Nights mold. This is a place and time just made for leaping and slashing amid lovely architecture. And in that sense, the movie does model the setting well, with lots of ersatz period detail—but the script doesn't add much life to the lush digital backdrop. It's about this adopted prince of Persia, Dastan, who helps invade the nearly defenseless holy city of Alamut, crushing its army and usurping its people. Note to scriptwriters: It's difficult to empathize with your hero when he's slaughtering the good guys. Sure, he soon comes across a magical time-rewinding dagger that helps change his allegiance, but by then you're thinking: dickhead.
2. The Cast Does Not Matter:
Jake Gyllenhaal plays Prince Dastan, and he's certainly buff. That seems to be his only qualification for the role, though his hair is pretty nice as well. Otherwise… not so Persian, unless ancient Persians spoke with fake English accents. But that's okay—the rest of the cast is also distinguished by their excellent Britishness and lily white non-Persianness. (Is there a Persian Anti-Defamation League to protest the lack of Persian actors in a movie named Prince of Persia? I really wish there was one so I could sign their petition.) Jarring cultural misidentities aside, what's needed here is an Errol Flynn type—someone who can transmit the sheer joy of prancing about with a sword and vowing vengeance upon one's enemies. Gyllenhaal mostly grins and then sometimes winces, but not much else. His stunt double does lots of flips.
3. The Director Does Not Matter:
Mike Newell seems like a nice enough British chap. He made Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Four Weddings and a Funeral, and, uh, Donnie Brasco was pretty decent, right? Regardless, Bruckheimer movies do not reflect the individual visions of their directors so much as the demands of their producer (see above). The only exception might be Ridley Scott and Black Hawk Down, though his directorial style is not so different from Bruckheimer's production sense: big, expensive, well-lit. With Prince of Persia, Newell just aims the camera in the right direction and makes sure his actors know their lines. The result is just another video game movie, albeit a more expensive one—as easily forgettable as the last dozen or so attempts.
In the end, what really does matter in Bruckheimer's summer blockbusters is that they merely present the idea of a movie—the makings for a good trailer with promises of action and adventure. Then what we really get are exercises in modern marketing in all its glory: Happy Meals, Wal-Mart toys, video game tie-ins, etc. We've become more invested in the summer-movie frippery than in the movie itself. And that seems like an awfully expensive way to enjoy ourselves these days.