Sahara (2005) / Action-Adventure
MPAA Rated: PG-13 for violence
Running Time: 127 min.
Cast: Matthew McConaughey, Steve Zahn, Penelope Cruz, William H. Macy, Lambert Wilson, Rainn Wilson, Delroy Lindo, Glynn Turman, Lennie James
Director: Breck Eisner
Screenplay: Thomas Dean Donnelly, Joshua Oppenheimer, John C. Richards, James V. Hart (based on the book by Clive Cussler)
Review published April 12, 2005
I've read exactly one of Clive Cussler's seventeen novels in the Dirk Pitt series, and chances are, I'll never read any of the other sixteen. If I were a book critic, I'd elaborate more, but let's just say that everything I felt while reading that book I felt while watching this movie. Sahara, the movie based of Cussler's novel of the same name, is trite, clichéd, thinly plotted, overblown, preposterous, and contains scant character development. In short, it has just about everything a Dirk Pitt fan could ever want in an action-adventure.
Dirk Pitt (McConaughey, How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days) is a treasure hunter and consummate man of adventure. His latest hunt leads him to the Niger River in Africa, although the timing is bad, given there is a sudden upsurge in disease and death among the native people. Eva Rojas (Cruz, Gothika) is a doctor for the World Health organization out to figure out the cause of the plague, and soon the two discover that there is a potential epidemic about to be unleashed to a large portion of the world.
The plot in a Dirk Pitt adventure is merely just a vehicle to showcase some action, adventure and cheesy humor, and taken merely as a means to entertain, I suppose it's all in fun. Sahara did have a chance for some escapist thrills, and with its mammoth $130 million budget, there is more than enough reason to think that the folks at Paramount could pull off a big-time adventure. Problems creep in from the outset, with the casting of McConaughey and Cruz in the lead roles. Neither is strong enough in presence to match up to the grandiosity that is the action all around them, and they exhibit almost no chemistry together, despite the fact that they are an item in real-life. There are some moments meant to be rife with tongue-in-cheek action, but very rarely do the actors make it as fun as it should be, although it doesn't help that the meager script doesn't offer much in humorous dialogue or situations.
Obviously, with such a high budget, you can expect some choice eye-candy, and I will admit, Sahara is a good looking film. Lush cinematography, exotic locations, and lots of explosions are all on display. With a little more effort into character development and smarter dialogue, Sahara would have had the potential to be a sleeper hit for the adventure crowd. There are moments when the action does work, but never for very long, and if there's one major reason why Sahara fails, it's because all momentum seems to stop whenever the action does. Breck Eisner's (Thoughtcrimes, Beyond) style as director is to shoot everything from as many angles as possible, and edit every action sequence using shots that last only one or two seconds each. A good movie would never have made me notice just how many cuts are involved in each scene, but Sahara offered so little to keep my interest, I literally sat there counting how many seconds each shot would take. I'd wager about 90% of the shots last under two seconds.
Sahara is a big budget bore, strictly for people who are entertained by mindless action pieces or beautiful African scenery. There really isn't much else here to recommend, and even Clive Cussler fans will probably come away disappointed at how the 700+ page book has been gutted down to about five or six extended action sequences and not enough expository information to hold them together. Those who are thirsty for good adventure may be enticed by the look and feel of Sahara's advertisements, but upon closer inspection, you'll likely find any promising thrills and chills contained within to be just a cruel mirage.
©2005 Vince Leo