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A film like Sahara aims to fly under the critical radar by wearing a badge of being “pure mindless fun.” This is the modus operandi of many popcorn style films, and frankly, it’s a cop out. Just because a film is intended to be nothing more than entertainment does not give all parties involved a justified excuse to go on autopilot.

Entertainment-wise, frankly, Sahara left me parched.

Mindless? Yes. Fun? Hardly. All life is completely sapped from the film as the characters progress through plot point after plot point with no other motivation than progressing to the conclusion of the film. And what a conclusion it is. Anti-climactic doesn’t begin to describe the outcomes here. The Paramount Pictures marketing department is having a field day with this film, touting it as a cross between Raiders of the Lost Ark and recent digital franchise The Mummy. As much as I disliked The Mummy, at least it was fun.

This film is an adaptation of a novel by Clive Cussler, and having never picked up any of the author’s novels there is little to discuss about the quality of adaptation employed here. However it is important to note that the process of adaptation can sometimes muddy the waters so much that the end result is a complete mess.

Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you Sahara.

Breck Eisner, the man behind the sci-fi TV series Taken is at the helm for this effort, and the film feels clunky, almost encumbered at times. Matthew McConaughey plays Dirk Pitt, an adventurer-slash-treasure hunter hybrid whose day job consists of unearthing buried artifacts from the ocean floor.

Dirk and his fellow adventurer, Al Giordino (Steve Zahn), find themselves intertwined in the a conflict between a Mali dictator named General Kazim (Lennie James), an entrepreneur (Lambert Wilson) whose efforts to find cheap labor result in eco-terrorism, and Eva Rojas, a doctor working for the World Health Organization (the W.H.O.?). Eva has stumbled upon what she believes to be a plague spreading throughout Africa, and to make matters worse, the source of the plague appears to be nestled somewhere amidst a Civil War taking place in Mali.

Speaking of Civil Wars, Dirk and Al are swept up into the mess while entertaining one of Dirk’s hunches which he hopes will lead him to his finding an artifact he’s sought after his entire career, a missing Ironclad boat from our very own Civil War. A Civil War era boat found its way to Africa? Don’t ask.

Fortunately for everyone, Dirk’s hunches are always correct. In fact, things come so easily to Dirk that he merely need to throw dynamite at random into the sand to unearth artifacts that had been lost to the rest of the world for hundreds of years. If treasure hunting were this easy, we would all be rich.

Eisner and company want us to swallow Dirk Pitt as an Indiana Jones type of lovable, gruff, swashbuckling hero, and it doesn’t work. If Steve Zissou was Jacques Cousteau via pot smoking and Brazilian translated Bowie renditions, then Dirk Pitt is Indiana Jones by way of tequila swilling and country-fried Lynyrd Skynyrd tunes. And that’s it. Nothing more, nothing less. In fact, it feels as though Dirk has been slapped on-screen as the prototypical hero for all to accept willingly and without question.

McConaughey brings his usual good ol’ boy charm to Dirk, the problem is that there just isn’t enough of Dirk to really connect with. We know that he has strived his entire carrier to locate a lost Civil War Ironclad boat that disappeared during the last blockade run of the war, but that is just the sort of superficial plot device that we all know will be wrapped up neatly by the closing credits, isn’t it?

What else is there to Dirk? His lifelong pal Al should add some flavor to Dirk’s past, perhaps enough for us to crack his shell open enough to find something to like? Nope. Try as he might, the usually hilarious Zahn flounders to add something worthwhile to Sahara to no avail. He gets practically all the laughs, but none are truly side-splittingly laugh out loud hilarious. The yuks tend to come in just below the average “buddy situation” style banter, which is not a good sign for a film with such little plot to begin with.

Well, perhaps a little romance with Eva will aid to unlocking the secrets to our beloved hero? Not likely. These two fail to connect in any significant way while traversing up river, and when it comes time for them to part, a half-handed attempt to connect the dots is thrown in so the audience will know that Dirk cares for Eva, sort of. It’s a throwaway moment with Dirk rambling on about a beach and a house on the beach, basically implying that he and Eva should spend some time there together, you know, after the find they treasure and Dirk saves the day, right? This is all thrown in so that audiences will feel the correct perfunctory responses at the right time, and the ruse shows shamelessly.


Mario Anima

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