Isn’t it sad when a dream dies? Not like a big ‘I have a dream’ dream, but a little dream. Like, say, the dream that you will hand over your $14 to see ‘Prince of Persia’ on it’s opening night, and for two hours plus you will be whisked away on a magic carpet ride of adventure, laughs, and the glistening splendor of Jake Gyllenhaal’s pecs. Well, my friends, this dream was not to be for me and my delightful friend Isaac (you can read his account of our disappointment on his blog here.) We eagerly fandango-ed our tickets days in advance, we ate thematic Middle Eastern food beforehand, we both practically squeegeed our glasses to make sure that we didn’t miss any even slightly bulging ligament in Jake Gyllenhaal’s torso. But instead of an evening of pervy cheeseball delight, we were both just a little… bored. And while the movie was doing it’s seemingly endless unspooling, it got me to thinking about another, far more enjoyable film also set in the deserts of a vaguely unspecific Middle East: one of my most favorites, The Mummy. And I began to wonder why two movies with so much in common should have such different reactions. So, since I had plenty of time to think about this while Jake Gyllenhaal jumped from rooftop to rooftop, I have compiled a list for you – may I present, in no particular order,
REASONS WHY ‘THE MUMMY’ IS AWESOME WHILE ‘PRINCE OF PERSIA’ SUCKS
1. The Star is funny and charming.
I’m just going to jump in here with this one, as unfortunately it’s one of the biggest. Both movies have as their star a hunking hunk of dreamy beefcake – for ‘The Mummy’, it’s the square-jawed star of my fifteen-year-old fantasies, Brendan Fraser, and for ‘Prince of Persia’ it’s the delightful Jake Gyllenhaal.
Yes, Jake Gyllenhaal is a wonderful actor – he is vulnerable, he is sympathetic, he can convey depths of pain and quirkiness and churning intelligence. Unfortunately, what he is not is charming, or funny. He is at his best playing introverts, as in ‘Donnie Darko’, and unfortunately, while this is all well and good, in an action movie you need someone who can play bigger than complex inward emotions – someone who makes you want to come along for the ride. And Brendan Fraser gets this – in ‘The Mummy’ he’s a lovable scamp, and much of the movie’s borderline cheese turns into fun gold when it is in the hands of him and his roguish charm. He’s a star, and a movie like this needs one.
2. The Villain is a character from the beginning, and an excellent one.
Both movies adhere to the rule of ‘never trust a man in guyliner’. But only The Mummy appreciates that we need to know who this person is from the get-go. By giving him a backstory, we like him as a character and appreciate his motives, but we also love that he’s just a churning, immortal, cat-hating, partially-disintegrated Baddie – his motivation is ‘kill! for love!’ and we love it. For god’s sake, he’s such a great villain the movie is named after him!
‘Prince of Persia’, by contrast, doesn’t provide a real villain until well into the movie, at which point we barely care anymore. Who killed the king and framed studly Gyllenhaal? Is it the prince of Persia (no, not that one)? Maybe the OTHER prince of Persia? Or is it Ben Kingsley, the uncle who wears guyliner and sort of vaguely has some history that we don’t care about? I’ll let you guess. but remember the guyliner rule.
3. The Lady/The Sidekick are well cast.
I could go on forever about these guys too, but I’ll keep in simple – since every summer movie probably is going to have a version of the sort-of-feminist, mostly-not ‘very smart, feisty, quasi-independent lady who comes in handy for exposition but also will need to be rescued a lot’, you have to make sure that you cast someone who will come off as authentically smart, and really charming, and fill in parts of the character that the script will probably not get to. Rachel Weisz can flesh-out a lady lead and make you love her, Gemma Arterton will make you wish that Gyllenhaal treked across the desert with an ostrich instead of a princess.
The same goes with the sidekick. Charm is key here, too, whether it’s a villainous sidekick or a good one. John Hannah makes a doofus funny rather than annoying, and Kevin O’Connor turns the amoral Beni into one of the funniest parts of the movie, with one of my most favorite jokes (I’ll get to that later). ‘Prince of Persia’ comes very close to having a great sidekick with Alfred Molina’s ostrich racer (proving the addendum to the ‘never trust a man in guyliner’ rule – ‘never trust a man in guyliner, unless he has a LOT of guyliner AND gold teeth, in which case his seemingly amoral outside hides a warm heart – (see ‘Jack Sparrow’)), but it falls prey to number 4:
4. Be one movie. And make that movie clear.
When Alfred Molina’s onscreen, ‘Prince of Persia’ is a bawdy farce, when Jake Gyllenhaal is jumping from rooftop to rooftop, it’s a video game, and when there are fervid declarations of brotherly love it becomes a weirdly serious, oddly violent tome on politics, loyalty, and filial love. The tone shifts so wildly you just give up. ‘The Mummy’, by contrast, is the same film from the first frame – a big, a little campy, warm-hearted, golden-hued, retro old-school action-adventure movie. It knows what it is, and does it well, which is really all I ever ask for. ‘The Mummy’ also tells a better story – ancient priest falls in forbidden love, becomes Mummy via/with curse, is accidentally awakened, must fulfill terms of aforementioned curse to resurrect his love, dreamy hero and adorable sidekicks must prevent this. Ta da!! Done. ‘Prince of Persia’, by contrast, has a big messy plot about a dagger with magical sand, a king killed and a prince framed, time travel, ostriches, and creepy assassins. People get killed, then time changes – what the fuck, I don’t know. There’s a lot of roof jumping.
5. Be actually funny.
No, really. Have jokes that are funny. It really, really helps.
However, there is one thing that ‘Prince of Persia’ currently has on ‘The Mummy’ which, if they’re wise, they’ll keep that way. Which is:
6. Don’t blow it with sequels.
Nothing makes you doubt the awesomeness of the first movie like seeing the lameness of the later ones. Although since ‘Prince of Persia’ started out so lame, maybe there’s nowhere to go but up! But until they make a fun, interesting sequel to ‘Prince of Persia’, I’ll be over here, watching my beaten up old DVD of ‘The Mummy’ for the billionth time.