Sahara movie review, Breck Eisner, Matthew McConaughey, Penelope Cruz, Steve Zahn, William H. Macy. Review by Rob Blackwelder ©SPLICEDwire
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A scene from 'Sahara'
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2.5 stars
124 minutes | Rated: PG-13
WIDE: Friday, April 8, 2005
Directed by Breck Eisner, Matthew McConaughey, Penelope Cruz, Steve Zahn, William H. Macy, Lambert Wilson, Delroy Lindo, Dayna Cussler, Clint Dyer, Lennie James, Rainn Wilson, Glynn Turman

Read our interview with NAME Steve Zahn talks about "Sahara"
Read our interview with William H. Macy William H. Macy (2001)


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  • Matthew McConaughey
  • Penelope Cruz
  • Steve Zahn
  • William H. Macy
  • Lambert Wilson
  • Delroy Lindo

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    Suspension of disbelief factor overrun by exponential absurdity in treasure-hunting popcorn-muncher

    By Rob Blackwelder

    If "Sahara" weren't quite so dumb, it might have been a lot of fun.

    A tongue-in-cheek action-adventure movie loosely based on Clive Cussler's best-selling novel, this wild ride stars Matthew McConaughey as maritime treasure-hunter Dirk Pitt, who follows rumors about a missing Civil War ironclad halfway around the world to the North African desert.

    But on his way he becomes sidetracked by a higher sense of purpose when a willful, beautiful World Health Organization doctor (Penelope Cruz) enlists his help to sneak into a war-torn country, against orders, to track the industrial-waste source of an illness spreading through local villages.

    The picture's often over-the-top action sequences have an excess of boys-with-toys spirit. Especially fun are a guns-a-blazin' chase between a speedboat and paramilitary gunboat down a picturesque desert river, and a scene in which McConaughey and his requisite wisecracking cool-dork sidekick Steve Zahn (who has practically cornered the market on such roles) fashion decades-old biplane wreckage into a land-sailing catamaran after escaping from bad guys in a remote bank of sand dunes.

    The circumstances of these episodes are often ludicrous, ignoring even the most basic kind of common sense -- which is OK in small doses when a movie's goal is just good dumb fun. But as they add up, "Sahara's" meager justifications for suspension of disbelief are overrun by exponential absurdity, culminating in an all-too-easy finale that might be amusing and exciting if it weren't so inescapably preposterous.

    Under even modest scrutiny, the plot makes even less sense than the action. It's a lot of balderdash about a warlord in cahoots with an evil metrosexual French businessman (Lambert Wilson comes off as a discount James Bond villain), both of whom employ armies of really, really stupid henchmen.

    The movie's failures are due in large part to an assembly-line screenplay, heavily influenced by "Indiana Jones" movies and script-doctored within an inch of its life. But also to blame is the video-game-like direction of Breck Eisner (son of embattled Disney honcho Michael Eisner), whose inexperience shows in the way "Sahara" feels like a series of high-gloss but low-budget action set pieces loosely tethered together by a thin story, but trying hard to gallop off in random directions.

    To some degree McConaughey comes to the rescue, holding together some loose ends with a performance that depicts Dirk as scruffy, dashing, cheeky and all-American, yet so completely at home in exotic foreign cultures that he's easily embraced by locals weary of Westerners. He's also entirely credible as the kind of guy who would, without a second thought, put his life's ambition on hold to help save people from disease. (Of course, the climax conveniently herds all plot points back into the same corral.)

    Zahn provides plenty of humor and Cruz seems more natural and relaxed here than in any of her previous Hollywood films (she's almost always superb in Spanish movies). So between the enjoyable performances and the stand-alone fun of the don't-take-this-seriously action scenes, "Sahara" would almost qualify as a popcorn-munching early-summer guilty pleasure. Too bad it's such a transparent and superficial attempt to build a franchise from spit-polished used parts.

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