Sahara (7/10)

by Tony Medley

I ran into a friend last night who thanked me for recommending ďBride and Prejudice,Ē adding that she liked ďmindless movies.Ē I do, too, and thatís why I liked ďSahara,Ē which is as mindless as they come, but itís fun and entertaining. Itís sort of James Bondish without the ridiculous special effects.

Dirk Pitt (Matthew McConaughey, who is a much more appealing superhero than Pierce Brosnan who continued the disappointing replacements for Sean Connery as James Bond), the protagonist in Clive Cusslerís adventure novels is looking for a Civil War ironclad that he thinks somehow ended up in the African desert. Heís joined by his lifelong buddy, Al Giordino (Steve Zahn) as they convince their boss, Admiral James Sandecker (William H. Macy) to allow them to take a three day leave from their jobs working for Sandeckerís organization, NUMA (The National Underwater and Marine Agency) which is a private organization that circles the glove searching for lost and buried artifacts, mostly in the oceans of the world. Along the way they meet Eva Rojas (Penelope Cruz), a World Health Organization (WHO) doctor, who is trying to find out what is causing a mysterious, plague-like illness thatís felling a lot of the natives. Into the mix pops Yves Massarde (Lambert Wilson), a slick frenchy whoís working for a corrupt dictator, General Zateb Kazim (Lennie James), the guy responsible for the bad water thatís killing the people Eva is trying to save.

Unfortunately, Dirkís search for the submarine is given short shrift as he becomes involved in Evaís quixotic quest. The script (four names are given credits; God knows how many people actually contributed to what became a mish-mash) quickly zeroes in on Evaís search for the cause of the illness and the corrupt Kazim and Yves. Unfortunately, they click issues, like a United Nations program (WHO) and pollution of the water supply which could destroy the entire world, none of which have anything to do with the search for a Civil War era ironclad in the African desert. Itís just too much. Whatís wrong with concentrating on an interesting idea, like the ironclad ending up in the Sahara desert? The idea that two WHO doctors could torpedo Kazimís evil plan is silly. You wonít believe the firepower Kazim sets in motion to try to find and kill them.

The film was shot on location in Morocco, whose government cooperated to the extent of leasing the production three tanks, 10 armored personnel carriers, and Huey helicopters, basically an entire armored division. The cinematography (Seamus McGarvey) of the mysterious desert is good, as are the stunts. The script is weak but the buddy chemistry between  McConaughey and Zahn makes up for its shortcomings. The film is directed by Michael Eisnerís son, Breck, and he exhibits a deft talent for the comedic-action genre.

Despite the silly plot lines and the too long 2 hour, seven minute running time, I enjoyed it, mainly because of McConaughey and Zahn.

April 8, 2005