starring Matthew McConaughey, Steve Zahn, Penélope Cruz, Lambert Wilson
screenplay by Thomas Dean Donnelly & Joshua Oppenheimer and John C. Richards and James V. Hart, based on the novel by Clive Cussler
directed by Breck Eisner
Dirk Pitt (McConaughey) is a swashbuckling archaeologist armed with a megawatt smile, a goofy sidekick named Giordino (Steve Zahn), and one of those Aardman claymation chickens, Eva (Penélope Cruz), for a love interest. His boss is Sandecker (William H. Macy), his enemy is that Merovingian wanker from The Matrix sequels (Lambert Wilson), and his superpower is that he's MacGuyver with a bigger budget. The plot concerns a lot of Confederate gold, loaded aboard a lost Ironside and sailed across the ocean to lodge in deepest, darkest Africa, to where we gather Pitt has tracked it over the course of an obsessive, Freedom Rock-scored opening pan across his office. Humour comes in the form of Pitt and Giordino reminiscing about backstory capers ("Remember the incident at the canal of Lost Souls?") that might give a thrill of recognition to people familiar with Cussler's Pitt series but just seems dorky to people who aren't. Eva, meanwhile, is a member of some world health organization investigating some African plague, and eventually, the two stories cross--though we never gain any further insight into why a Confederate sailor would take his battleship across the Atlantic, nor how the gold booty interred within could have anything to do with the plague, nor, ultimately, how the treasure could help the fortunes of West Africa without stirring up a heap of trouble in a war torn/poverty-stricken area. Sahara screams a lot, but it's not saying anything, its dialogue merely the stuff that happens between action scenes that aren't anything to write home about, anyhow.
Worse (though even as I say "worse," I realize I don't care), while the film's not over until the white villain dies, it seems pretty interested in killing a bunch of black people to up the ante along the way. This is what's known as "colonial racism," which is one of those things that only those who turned out in droves for Diary of a Mad Black Woman and the rest of the world really care about. For me, Sahara is a populist movie made without much imagination or verve and scored with an obnoxious AM Gold soundtrack of boozy Americana classics that fits right in with McConaughey's nude bongo-playing image. It's the bronzed golden lizard king, riding wakes on the rivers of the Dark Continent in search of Confederate plunder, his toadie in his hip pocket and exotic ladies from the nearer East (Spain) falling at his feet. The real bad guy is a Frenchman, the victims (and henchmen) in need of inspiration are black, and in the end there's nothing a few diplomatic gears greased by Yankee power and cash can't overcome. There's a difference between "exciting" and "busy"--how picky you are will have a lot to do with how much you tolerate Sahara. Originally published: April 8, 2005.