U.S. Release Date: April 8, 2005
Distributor: Paramount
Director: Breck Eisner
Writer: Thomas Dean Donnelly, Joshua Oppenheimer
Composer: Clint Mansell
Cast: Matthew McConaughey, Steve Zahn, Penelope Cruz, William H. Macy
Running Time: 2 hours and 4 minutes
MPAA Rating: PG-13 (action violence)

Adventure is All Over the Map
by Scott Holleran

With disease, danger and treasure, Sahara has the basic elements for a decent adventure picture. A daring swashbuckler (Matthew McConaughey, who also executive produced) rescues a long-haired beauty (Penelope Cruz) and, paired with his smart aleck sidekick (Steve Zahn), knocks around Africa in search of a Civil War battleship. It is based on Clive Cussler's novel of the same name, so it is slightly more literate than the genre's usual collection of random thrillsóThe Mummy, The Scorpion Kingóbut do not expect a compass on this journey. The last major movie made from a Cussler novel was Raise the Titanic 25 years ago. It is not hard to see why.

McConaughey plays Cussler's fiction franchise hero Dirk Pitt, who works for the National Underwater Marine Agency (NUMA), though there is no underwater scenery here. On an African excursion headed by William H. Macy, Pitt and partner Zahn borrow the boss' boat to search for the Civil War ironsides that nobody but Pitt believes wound up lost in an African river. Medical doctor Cruz, still not quite speaking English after all these years, hitches a ride to save the children from the plague. Sometimes she wears glasses, sometimes she doesn't, and in either case, it is impossible to take her seriously as a doctor.

It seems someone is conspiring to kill her, and gallant McConaughey, willing to sidetrack his goals, comes to the rescue. Gunboat battles, escapes and shootouts ensue, and the clutter comes together by chance in a David vs. Goliath siege that makes Steven Spielberg's Raiders of the Lost Ark seem downright realistic. Among the diversions, Delroy Lindo (the incestuous father in The Cider House Rules) plays a CIA operative, but the intense, domineering actor is stuck in a tiny part that belongs in another movie. Lindo deserves better than this action piffle.

A people power moment is nicely rendered, with some good photography, but the payoff lacks buildup, and Sahara is overloaded with sound and music, which, like most pictures, is much too loud. McConaughey seems to be having fun as a rambling man, but Zahn's character is both more defined and heroic. During a climax (there are several), Zahn's practical sidekick assures McConaughey's loopy history buff: I'll disarm the bomb, you get the girl. And McConaughey responds like a puppy.

Cruz is as bland as ever, delivering lines as if she is ordering pizza. But these lines make for pretty boring reading material, stuffed in a movie which is part treasure hunt, part history lesson, part Christian guilt tripówith an evil businessman (charismatic Lambert Wilson). The script, written by at least four people, trots out some environmentalist claptrap about toxic waste poisoning the entire Atlantic Ocean, which is to the plot what The Day After Tomorrow was to science: junk. In other words, Sahara, which has nothing to do with its name, wanders far and wide, with a few explosions and toothy grins in between.

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