April 11, 2005


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I have to warn you, this review might be slightly negatively slanted since after viewing the film, the TCAT bus driver totally ignored me and drove off, forcing me to chase the the bus around the parking lot for a little while, yelling before I gave up all hope. While the fifteen minutes I spent festering outside the cinema waiting for a taxi was a little trying, to say the least, at least I could think about the previous, much more enjoyable two hours spent watching Sahara.

Sahara is the first motion picture for director Breck Eisner, who if you haven’t guessed it is the son of recently disposed Disney head Michael Eisner. The movie takes place in, yep, you guessed it, Africa, Nigeria and Mali to be more exact (even though it was mainly filmed in Spain and Morocco). The film’s two male protagonists, Dirk Pitt (Matthew McConaughey) and his good friend and former Navy buddy, Al Giordino (Steve Zahn) salvaged works of art for the Nigerian national museum. At the same time a World Health Organization official, Dr. Eva Rojas (Penelope Cruz) is investigating a strange illness that seems to affect people who have visited Mali. While working in Nigeria, Dirk finds a rare coin from the Civil War Confederacy. This discovery proves to Dirk his crazy theory that an ironclad filled with Confederate bullion escaped during the last days of the Civil War and miraculously made it to Africa. Dirk and Al convince their boss (William H. Macy) to give them a boat and a little time to go up the Niger River to find the lost ship. At the same, time Eva has headed in the same direction to discover the source of the mysterious disease. As both parties approach Mali, they cross paths and eventually discover a deadly secret. To hide the wrongdoing, Mali’s military dictatorship chases the trio across the desert. Dirk, Al and Eva team up to find the disease, the ship and a way home alive.

Any movie like Sahara is always living in Indiana Jones’s shadow. I hate to break it to you, this film still doesn’t beat Indy in the perfect combination of zany plots, great action sequences, and comedy. However, that doesn’t mean it’s not good at achieving these things. Sahara successfully avoids all the typical sand traps (sorry I had to use that term at least once) that other action adventures find themselves sinking into. It never gets too emotional and the lovey dovey stuff that you would expect to occur between Dirk and Eva isn’t over done. Most importantly, the film never takes itself too seriously. Eisner and his fellow film makers realize that this is a movie about a Civil War battleship in the middle of the Sahara, something that could never occur. EVER. However, instead of spending endless time trying to convince the audience that such a thing is possible, Eisner simply wows us with great action sequences, refreshing interludes of comedy and cohesive chemistry between his cast so we don’t really care that the main plot of the film could never occur. Remind anyone of Indiana Jones?

Sahara isn’t perfect. It makes the mistake of not using brilliant upcoming comedic actor Rainn Wilson, who you probably remember from Six Feet Under. The film’s biggest error occurs when the mystery substance that causes the disease threatens to get into the Atlantic Ocean and hurt the entire planet. Sahara is much more enjoyable with just the good guys fighting the bad guys in the dessert without any interference from apocalyptic factors. Fortunately this aspect of the film is overdone and doesn’t make a big dent in the overall movie. All in all Sahara, while not a masterpiece, provides a great trip back to movie basics. It simply presents a situation and events that make the audience ohh and ahh. Sure the plotline is impossible, but if we wanted to see the possible we wouldn’t go to movies in the first place. What really matters is how fun a ride a film like Sahara can give its audience, and Eisner and McConaughey are the perfect guides for this roller coaster of a movie.

Archived article by Mark Rice
Sun Film Editor