Splice is a provocative sci-fi thriller and Prince of Persia is a royal pain

by Mark Burger

Vincenzo Natali’s Splice, the latest latter-day variation on Frankenstein, stars Adrien Brody and Sarah Polley as Clive and Elsa, hailed by their employer as “Splice Masters by Mark Burger Extraordinaire.” contributing columnist They’re young, they’re in love and they’re at the forefront of genetic engineering, at which point, they decide to go beyond the forefront and, essentially, create their own being. Not the old-fashioned way, but in the laboratory.

The experiment is a success. Yet in their brilliance and reckless ambition, Clive and Elsa have also sown the seeds of their own destruction. What they create, which they name “Dren” (personified by Abigail Chu as a child, Delphine Chaneac as an adult and by CGI effects the rest of the time), is truly a miracle of science. But as Dren begins developing her (its?) own sense of identity and intelligence, Clive and Elsa each find themselves dealing with complex, complicated feelings of guilt, accomplishment, even parental responsibility and mounting fear. They are rapidly losing control, both of Dren and of themselves.

Even when the characters take total leave of logic, which often happens in films such as this, Brody and Polley imbue Clive and Elsa with humanity (replete with warts) and humor. Natali wisely avoids a campy tone, but Splice is not without its humorous moments. (The names Clive and Elsa are undoubted nods to James Whale’s ’30s classics Frankenstein and The Bride of Frankenstein.)

With a cool, clinical sheen that recalls the work of David Cronenberg (who, like Natali, hails from Canada, where the film was made), Splice addresses some pointed and potent questions about moral and ethical decisions, as well as the direct (and indirect) consequences of those decisions. The film may not answer them all satisfactorily, but considering that so many horror films today take an interesting concept and dumb it down to the lowest common denominator, often falling back on special effects and gore, Splice takes an inter- esting concept and keeps it interest- ing. What’s more, it also boasts excellent special effects. That the film doesn’t quite work in the end doesn’t negate its ambitions.

There has never been a good movie based on a video game, and Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time is one of the worst yet.

A good part of the reason is that the talent involved is definitely of a higher pedigree than in the usual video-game dross, including director Mike Newell (whose credits include Donnie Brasco and Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire) and an upscale cast including Jake Gyllenhaal, Ben Kingsley and Alfred Molina.

The producer is Jerry Bruckheimer, who can always be counted on to deliver mega-buck, big-screen bombast that, on occasion (Crimson

Tide, Enemy of the State, Remember the Titans), hits the target.

This is not one of those occasions. With a choppy narrative that moves in fits and starts, and always predictably, the film sees a miscast Gyllenhaal (as the hero, the adopted Prince Dastan) repeatedly engaging in feats of derring-do that more often play like derringdon’t. The story is pitiful, the dialogue is atrocious and the actors lost.

Amidst political intrigue that plays like sixth-rate (and sixth-grade) Shakespeare, Dastan is charged with getting hold of a sacred dagger that possesses the power to turn back time. Whoever possesses the dagger could, conceivably, rule the world.

Better they should turn back time to the origins of this project and save everybody, including the audience, the trouble.

Leading lady Gemma Arterton, as the princess Tamina, is required to be pretty and pouty in the Angelina Jolie mold. She’s basically reprising her role from the recent Clash of the Titans, which wasn’t very good either but was at least amusing at times.

It’s always good to have Kingsley and Molina on board, the former as a duplicitous power broker and the latter as a wisecracking bandit, but even their scenery-chewing histrionics become wearisome before too long.

That the sacred dagger’s power is to turn back time becomes the film’s easy way out. Too often, movies about time travel will cheat by using it a gimmick to negate all that has proceeded before, not unlike the old “It was all just a dream” motif in horror films.

Few films have taken the easy way out more easily than Prince of Persia, with a “twist” ending that is patently embarrassing. If nothing else, however, the makers have created a (very expensive) film that possesses all the story nuance and depth of the average video game. Rare is the scene in Prince of Persia that doesn’t have some sort of CGI effect, but rarer still is the scene that manages to entertain, even on a no-think level. It is amusing to note, however, that hair extensions were so common in ancient Persia.