If "Sahara" weren't quite so dumb, it might have been a lot offun.

A tongue-in-cheek action-adventure movie loosely basedon Clive Cussler's best-selling novel, this wild ride stars Matthew McConaugheyas maritime treasure-hunter Dirk Pitt, who follows rumors about a missingCivil War ironclad halfway around the world to the North African desert.

But on his way he becomes sidetracked by a higher senseof purpose when a willful, beautiful World Health Organization doctor (PenelopeCruz) enlists his help to sneak into a war-torn country, against orders,to track the industrial-waste source of an illness spreading through localvillages.

The picture's often over-the-top action sequences havean excess of boys-with-toys spirit. Especially fun are a guns-a-blazin'chase between a speedboat and paramilitary gunboat down a picturesque desertriver, and a scene in which McConaughey and his requisite wisecrackingcool-dork sidekick Steve Zahn (who has practically cornered the marketon such roles) fashion decades-old biplane wreckage into a land-sailingcatamaran after escaping from bad guys in a remote bank of sand dunes.

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