2 stars


13th April 2005

One thing that no man should ever have to witness upon being dragged to see a film by a friend is "Based on the book by Clive Cussler". I saw those words and my blood ran cold; I swear to God, I'd rather watch a film with "Based on the ideology of Pol Pot" in the opening credits. Cussler occupies the same literary sphere as Tom Clancy. Only his books aren't as challenging as Clancy. I'll say that again; he's like Clancy only not as good. Which is like saying Hitler was like Stalin, only not as bloodthirsty. So it was that I was trapped in a sparsely populated cinema and bracing myself for a hackneyed Boys Own adventure. I was not disappointed.

What we have here is a film with a plot so tissue thin and transparent that you could box it up and sell it to schools as toilet paper. Essentially, a Confederate Ironclad went missing at the end of the American Civil War. The lead character, Dirk Pitt, (Matthew McConaughey) is searching for it in deepest Africa. He is assisted in his Quixotic quest by Al (Steve Zahn). A quick note about Al; presumably, Zahn's laconic delivery is meant to indicate a kind of laid back, stoner drawl, replete with trademark wisecracks and smart-aleccy remarks. Alas, what he succeeds in doing is making the character sound educationally subnormal at best, or like Brick (the retarded character in Anchorman) at worst.

Anyway, whilst on the hunt for the Ironclad, the dumbassed duo get entangled with Eva Rojas (Penelope Cruz) who is by far and away the most attractive, perfectly poised and beautifully made up member of the World Health Organisation that ever there was. Which is all the more impressive when you consider that she's trying to discover the cause of a plague that started in the war torn African Republic of Mali. Add to this the corrupt President of Mali, an even more corrupt businessman, a couple of photogenically dashing Malian rebels, and A Race Against Time To Stop Disaster TM, and you have Sahara in an oversized and overlong nutshell.

The thing is, there's nothing dreadfully offensive about this film - Zahn's Deacon-esque delivery aside - it's just that there's nothing hugely engaging about it either. McConaughey seems occasionally unsure as to whether he wants to be in the film. William H Macy and Delroy Lindo have fun in their scene, but even that is just "2 men with a mutual past" by numbers. Cruz phones in a bored-looking performance, and Zahn should be shot through the face with a powerful cannon to prevent him from acting onscreen ever again.

Sahara tries to be an action-adventure, a treasure hunt, an Outbreak clone, and a disaster movie. And it does so in the vain hope that no one will notice that every single element has been done before, and with far greater style. That said, it would be an ideal film for a drunken night in with ones friends; one doesn't really have to pay any attention to the tattered remains of a plot. Instead, you can sit back, have yet another drink, and wait for the next set-piece plebdazzle to make its way to the screen.

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