Sahara Movie Review
Matthew McConaughey plays Dirk, the carefree leader of an exploration team working to recover lost artifacts from the ocean floor off the coast of Western Africa. Dirk is infatuated with the story of a captain from an ironclad American Civil War battleship who owned the last known U.S. gold dollar. As luck would have it, this ship just so happened to journey from Virginia to the nearby nation of Mali after the war. With the permission of his boss Admiral James Sandecker (William H. Macy), Dirk and his team, including his wiseass sidekick Al Giordino (Steve Zahn), are given three days to search the Niger River for the ship and the lost gold coin.
Dirk's treasure hunt incidentally coincides with the work of Eva Rojas (Penélope Cruz) and her team of World Health Organization doctors investigating an apparent plague that is devouring the area's population. While Dirk, Al, and Eva are on separate journeys, they frequently (and conveniently) cross each other's paths -- apparently the Sahara is much smaller than we were told in grade school. Anyhow, the trio soon discovers that the local warlord, General Kazim, is conspiring with a rich French industrialist named Massarde to purposely poison tribes and villages.
Kazim and Massarde want the meddling westerners out of Africa and they have dispatched the Mali army to capture them. At this point, Sahara does a complete about-face; the treasure hunters become the hunted crusaders. And it's at that moment when Sahara loses us. The story that follows is founded on a preposterous plot that allows Dirk, Al, and Eva to travel across the desert and back with unbelievable ease. The overmatched trio hardly breaks a sweat, or a nail, as they fight Mali's malicious army or prevent bombs from detonating inside a power plant. They're even able to quickly decipher ancient African tribal drawings that Indiana Jones would have needed a lifetime to solve.
A team of four screenwriters adapted this mess from the widely popular and thrilling novel by Clive Cussler. Dissatisfied with the liberal approach taken with his material, Cussler has protested the film's release and has pending litigation against the filmmakers. The film version skips significant details and interesting subplots are glossed-over. It's no wonder the highly mechanized finished product feels so unfulfilling -- many of the best parts of the book are left out of the movie!
McConaughey certainly has the brawn to make him a believable adventure-seeker, but he's given so little personality that it's difficult for us to admire his heroics. As you might expect, Cruz is smoking hot. Unfortunately, this lends little credibility to her role as a doctor in a third-world country. And while Zahn's relentless commentary track provides nearly all of the film's comic relief, his irrelevant humor is far from memorable; mostly, it's just annoying.
But even better than I could summate, Zahn's comment late in the film provides the best critique of Sahara: "There's no way that should have worked." Exactly!
The DVD adds commentary tracks, deleted scenes, and three making-of featurettes.
What, I'm gonna have to read something?