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2005 - PG-13 - 127 Mins.
Director: Breck Eisner
Producer: Mark Abela, Stephanie Austin, Matthew McConaughey
Written By: Clive Cussler (Novel), Thomas Dean Donnelly, Joshua Oppenheimer, John C. Richards, James V. Hart
Starring: Matthew McConaughey, Steve Zahn, Penelope Cruz, Lambert Wilson, William H. Macy, Delroy Lindo
Review by: Joe Rickey
Official Site:

I'm not American, so I must be the bad guy....
An expensive (130+ million budget) action-adventure in the vein of 'Indiana Jones' and 'National Treasure', 'Sahara' is based on the Clive Cussler novel about adventurer Dirk Pitt (Matthew McConaughey) in search of a legendary battleship from the Civil War which may be linked to a plague killing thousands in Africa. The film may not be high art, but like the aforementioned 'National Treasure,' it still manages to be a lot of light-hearted fun.

'Sahara' has had a long and winding path to theatres since its inception years ago. Always on the lookout for potential franchises, Hollywood brought Cussler's novel 'Raise the Titanic', the 4th in a series of Dirk Pitt adventures, to the big screen in 1980. It was subsequently panned and was a box office bomb to the extent that no one wanted to touch Cussler's work for some twenty odd years, and Cussler seemed happy enough to leave his characters in print form. That is until Bristol Bay Productions and Paramount decided to take another crack at the Pitt character for a new adventure. Then came the casting troubles as the likes of Tom Cruise, and Hugh Jackman were bandied about as potential candidates to play NUMA operative Dirk Pitt before Matthew McConaughey was brought on-board after he agreed to help finance the big budget film. Cussler then sued the producers because he was unhappy with the script. Despite his objections, the producers ran with it, under the direction of Breck Eisner (Son of Disney CEO Michael Eisner). Initially planned for release in the summer of 2003, Paramount repeatedly moved it until they settled on its current release on April 8th, 2005.

The end result of all the behind-the-scene troubles is a film that is most certainly contrived but self-mocking to the extent that it asks the viewer to play along with its heightened suspension of disbelief. Primary among its strengths is a game cast. In the lead role, McConaughey is able to make convincing both the drama and the action portions through considerable screen presence and his ability to generate a believable combination of charisma and intelligence. As his comically-inclined sidekick, Steve Zahn ('Joy Ride', 'Riding in Cars with Boys', 'Daddy Day Care') is a laugh riot, making even the more throwaway lines like "Hello there" much more humorous than they certainly appeared on the page through skilled delivery and timing. He also ably pulls off the more serious moments his role requires, showing the versatility he's demonstrated often in his aforementioned films. Joining them is Penelope Cruz as a World Health Organization employee investigating the origins of the plague. Her role basically amounts to the damsel in distress/love interest variety but she is able to raise it above these clich├ęs through a personality that illustrates much more toughness than one generally sees in these roles. As the villain of the picture Lambert Wilson ('Catwoman') is serviceable.

The film also benefits from deft direction by wet-behind-the-ears Eisner (His only previous experience was directing a series of TV movies including a segment of the Steven Spielberg miniseries "Taken"). While the film does struggle from problems related to pacing at times (a good part of the first hour is spent developing the plot and is mostly action-free), once it gets going, the film never lets up. The myriad of action sequences (highlights include a combination land-sea shootout and a race on the back of camels, among others) are well-staged and never once seem rote.

While I do wish the film had devised a more plausible set of events at times (throw plausibility out the window when going to see this picture), 'Sahara' makes for a fun time at the movies with its combination of grand adventure, action, and comedy.

Movie Guru Rating
An excellent film.  Among the best in its Genre.  Worth seeing in the Theater. An excellent film.  Among the best in its Genre.  Worth seeing in the Theater. An excellent film.  Among the best in its Genre.  Worth seeing in the Theater. An excellent film.  Among the best in its Genre.  Worth seeing in the Theater.
  4 out of 5 stars

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