Combustible Celluloid
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With: Matthew McConaughey, Steve Zahn, Penelope Cruz, William H. Macy, Delroy Lindo
Written by: Thomas Dean Donnelly, Joshua Oppenheimer, John C. Richards and James V. Hart, based on a novel by Clive Cussler
Directed by: Breck Eisner
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for action violence
Running Time: 123
Date: 04/04/2005

Sahara (2005)

1 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Bland Storm

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

No one makes movies from Clive Cussler novels very often, and it's nomystery why. The only other adaptation, Raise the Titanic (1980), hasall but vanished from the public consciousness.

Now we have Sahara. After its forced existence in theaters and on pay-per-view, airplanes, video, DVD and cable, it will no doubt join its predecessor.

Matthew McConaughey stars as fortune hunter Dirk Pitt. Teamed with his quick-witted sidekick Al Giordino (Steve Zahn), Dirk scours the African deserts for a lost Civil War-era battleship loaded with treasure.

Penelope Cruz plays a cute World Health Organization doctor, Eva Rojas, whose quest to stamp out a plague takes her on the same path, providing an obligatory and chemistry-free love interest for McConaughey.

Eva is on her way to Africa to battle an outbreak of a new plague. By sheer coincidence, both plot threads are connected. And that's far from the only coincidence in this film. When the heroes finally find their coveted prize, it's not through logic or skill, but by pure accident. Even the brain-dead National Treasure tried harder than this.

The usual bland villains turn up and try to stop the good guys. At some point the lead baddie kidnaps Eva and explains his evil plot. Apparently it has something to do with diverting nuclear waste and using solar panels, but either the movie is not very clear on this point, or I just lost interest.

Sahara actually tries our patience right from the first scene, a confusing Civil War flashback that's supposed to explain the mystery of the battleship, but merely features a lot of explosions.

The captain of this sinking ship is Breck Eisner (TV's "Taken"), who makes his feature directorial debut. Eisner joins that crowded and ever-growing club of hacks who create action sequences by shaking the camera around and editing really fast.

Worse, he can barely handle the simple talking scenes. He somehow even makes the cosmically gifted actor William H. Macy -- slumming here in a supporting role -- look bored.

Yet Sahara has its moments. It features the best use of Steppenwolf's "Magic Carpet Ride" on a movie soundtrack that I've ever seen, and Ms. Cruz bursts to life in one action scene after boarding a moving train from a galloping camel. McConaughey helps her up and her enthusiastic response makes it seem as if she actually performed the stunt, and, what's more, thoroughly enjoyed herself. At least someone did.

Paramount's DVD release comes with two commentary tracks, one by director Eisner alone, and another featuring both Eisner and McConaughey. We also get some rather bland deleted scenes, three featurettes and optional English and Spanish subtitles. An Easter Egg located on the "special features" menu gives a funny 30-second tour of Steve Zahn's trailer.{subid}&url=hitlist.asp?searchfield=marvel
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