Lost in the Desert

by Alan Rapp on April 8, 2005

in Movie Reviews 

The best word to describe Paramount’s flick Sahara is disappointing.  It would seem a movie like this would have everything going for it, a strong leading man in Matthew McConaughey, a wise-crakin’ partner in Steve Zahn, William H. Macy as the gruff but compationate boss, an attractive love interest in Penelope Cruz, and a plot from a best selling author in Clive Cussler.  So what went wrong?  Where, oh where, to begin?

Sahara
1 & 1/2 Stars

The best word to describe Paramount’s flick Sahara is disappointing.  It would seem a movie like this would have everything going for it, a strong leading man in Matthew McConaughey, a wise-crakin’ partner in Steve Zahn, William H. Macy as the gruff but compationate boss, an attractive love interest in Penelope Cruz, and a plot from a best selling author in Clive Cussler.  So what went wrong?  Where, oh where, to begin?

The movie is based of Clive Cussler’s book of the same name, part of his series of Dirk Pitt adventures.  As a guy who doesn’t read Cussler’s work I can’t tell you if the movie adaption is a good representation of the novel.  What I can say is that the studio made this movie in an attempt to start a new franchise for the Dirk Pitt novels.  I can only hope the future installments are better than this.

Here’s the plot, so to speak.  Dirk Pitt (McConaughey) and his sidekick Al (Zahn) are NUMA agents searching for a lost ironclad Confederate warship in the middle of the deserts of Africa.  By the way, if you’re wondering how an ironclad Confederate warship ends up in the African desert, I’m not really sure since the movie fails to give a good explanation.  The first few minutes of the movie are well set-up and promising, what happens next however derails all that is to follow.  The two explorers meet up with Dr. Eva Rojas (Cruz) who is seeking the cause of a plague that is spreading across northern Africa.  After saving her life the quest for the ship is abandoned for the next hour and forty minutes as Pitt and Al try to continuously save the lady doctor’s life and find the cause of the plague and stop it while they are faced with increasingly more fantastical and unbeliebable stunts and action sequences (the “Panama” sequence is pretty entertaining and funny).  It’s too bad most of the movie is more like the scene of the rebuilding an airplane they happen to find in the middle of the desert into a motor powered sled, jeez! (I didn’t buy it in Flight of the Phoenix, and I’m not buying it here either).

The movie introduces many supporting characters, including William H. Macy, Delroy Lindo, and Lambert Wilson as the villian (if he looks familiar, you probably remember him as the Merovingian from the last two Matrix flicks).  Macy and Lindo are interesting, but are on screen so little you forget they actually have roles in the movie.  As for Wilson, he plays the typical billionare villian who is polluting and killing for no real reason except the plot calls for him to.  He doesn’t bring much menace to the part other than his accent and scowl.  Ohhh, scary!

The actual treasure hunting part of the movie is less than 30 total minutes, instead the film is mosly chases, explosions, and the explorers finding clues not through intuitive leaps but rather through dumb luck.  McConaughey doesn’t really come off as a guy who could actually find anything, but hey he looks great with his shirt off so I guess we’re not supposed to question his abilities.  Steve Zahn’s wise cracks are amusing and provide most of the good moments of the film, but that’s really the sole reason for his character, and even he wears thin over the two hour plus running time.  As for Cruz, I’ve never been much of a fan.  She bats her doe eyes and smiles seductively or pouts as the scene calls for, but I had a hard time buying her as a doctor, or even a wet nurse.  I once heard a reviewer say she needs to do two things before she acts in any American films.  First, lean to speak English, and second, learn to act.  Her character’s unecessary insertion into the movie hijacks the movie’s plot from the interesting hunt for the warship into the desert and turns the movie into a typical save the damsel from the evil villian action flick.  I would have liked to have seen more of Macy, and I don’t think it’s a coincidence most of the best scenes involve him in some way (like the “Panama” sequence).  I could also have done with more actual treasure hunting in a movie in which the two main characters are treasure hunters.

If you’re looking for a big blow ‘em up summer action movie in the spring without caring about plot then this is your flick.  I’d compare it to the Tomb Raider movies with Angelina Jolie, so if you like the those you will probably like this.  Personally, I would recommend Disney’s National Treasure  or the Indiana Jones’ movies if you’re looking for a good treasure hunting flick.

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