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SAHARA (director: Breck Eisner; screenwriters: from the novel by Clive Cussler/Thomas Dean Donnelly/Joshua Oppenheimer/John C. Richards/James V. Hart; cinematographer: Seamus Mcgarvey; editor: Andrew MacRitchie; music: Clint Mansell; cast: Matthew McConaughey (Dirk Pitt), Steve Zahn (Al Giordino), Penélope Cruz (Dr. Eva Rojas), Lambert Wilson (Yves Massarde), Glynn Turman (Dr. Hopper), Delroy Lindo (Carl, CIA agent), William H. Macy (Admiral Sandecker), Rainn Wilson (Rudi), Lennie James (General Kazim), Clint Dyer (Oshodi); Runtime: 130; MPAA Rating: PG-13; producers: Howard Baldwin/Karen Baldwin/Mace Neufeld/Stephanie Austin; Paramount Pictures; 2005)
“Easy to look at and even easier to forget.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A middling James Bond-Indiana Jones type of adventure lark set in Africa that is easy to look at and even easier to forget. Making his debut as director is Breck Eisner, “son of Disney chief Michael.” The kid shows he has the right stuff to keep the film simple and not get bogged down in the intricacies of the tome-like novel (over 500 pages) by Clive Cussler the film is based on (the movie and the book are two different stories, which upset the 73-year-old Cussler enough that he threatened a law suit). There are four screenwriters who must have diligently worked to keep the explosions and the ridiculous swashbuckling exploits coming at every turn and everything as fluff as possible for the stoner partnership of the hunky Matthew McConaughey and the wisecracking Steve Zahn to play out their stereotyped comic book hero portrayals without letting anything weighty get in their way. That includes their mild attack on environmental polluters, African poverty and government bureaucrats, as the film divided sides up equally between the good guys and the heavies.

This high-budget (supposedly $135 million) summer-blockbuster escapist film is dull formulaic fare that has a questionable history premise, a star who does not light up the screen with charisma (Matthew McConaughey), a foreign-born female lead (Penélope Cruz) as eye candy who struggles with the English language to a point where it’s an unwelcome distraction, and a tiresome and silly plot line to fill in the gaps while the adventurers are involved in their all too familiar set action pieces.

Al Giordino (Steve Zahn) and Dirk Pitt (Matthew McConaughey) are ex-Navy SEAL aquatic treasure hunters on the hunt for a lost Confederate ironclad ship from the end of the Civil War, which due to some mysteries of nature wound up on the Niger River part that dried up into a desert. Dedicated World Health Organization doctor Eva Rojas (Penélope Cruz) is searching for the source of a mysterious deadly virus disease in Lagos, Nigeria, that’s about to become a world epidemic unless quickly checked. Dr. Eva soon learns the disease originates in Mali, but since there’s a bloody civil war raging there W.H.O. won’t give her permission to go. This doesn’t stop the medic from trying, and her efforts result in an attempt on her life in Nigeria by the Mali warlord’s soldiers. But Dirk, who just happens to be in the vicinity, rescues her from the vicious attack on the beach, and the intrepid trio sneak off to Mali by borrowing the high-tech speedboat of Admiral Sandecker (William H. Macy), who is the treasure hunter’s boss. They luck out finding the Confederate ship with the specially minted Jefferson Davis gold coins, which causes humanitarian Eva’s breast to heave with excitement (her best acting move). Soon it’s discovered the epidemic is from an industrial solar-energy plant’s waste toxic dumping in the middle of the desert (when stored in the Confederate boat it seeps into the wells and rivers). That plant is owned by French corporate baddie Yves Massarde (Lambert Wilson), a man who wanted to do good in this world but got caught up in greed, who cut a sweetheart Faustian deal with ruthless Mali warlord General Kazim (Lennie James) to run the plant without questions. In what goes for an uplifting story, never mind all the killings and destruction, the good guys hook up with the rebel Taureg horsemen to fight off Kazim’s well-armed army from protecting the industrial plant and the daring heroes single-handedly save the world from an environmental catastrophe.

The film’s one good quip comes from Zahn. He’s asked by McConaughey “What would you do if you were about to be exposed as the worst polluter of modern times?” Zahn counters: “Run for President?”

Fine character actors William H. Macy and Delroy Lindo are wasted in minor roles, where little is asked of them.

Whatever…it’s sure pretty to look at the African desert scenery (filmed in Morocco); but it’s just another inconsequential popcorn filling movie that should leave you hungry for more substantial food. It never becomes the fun romp it was intended to be, as it was far too clunky to get over that hump.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”