Sahara / Phillip Stephens
Film Reviews | May 12, 2006 | Comments ()
Try as I might, I just can’t seem to get inured to these blatantly generic action-adventure flicks. The preview appears to shout: “OK. I know what you’re thinking: Here we go yet again. And you know what? You’re absolutely right. There’s nothing original to be had here. But for once, pretty please, just unhook your expectations and a good chunk of your IQ and I promise you’ll enjoy the film on its own level.”
Well, I tried, and it didn’t work in the least, because frankly, those are pretty damned big prerequisites to just chuck out the window. In order for me to enjoy a film, even on a purely entertaining level, I have to care about what’s happening on the screen. And when the action taking place on said screen is so prosaically in the shadow of Raiders of the Lost Ark and requires the forgiveness of galactic-sized plot holes, absurdly unrealistic set-pieces, and an unfunny, oafish sidekick, I just can’t muster the energy to be bothered. Not even a little.
Plot the First: A buffed-up treasure-hunter with the second-rate porno name of Dirk Pitt (Matthew McConaughey) has been looking for a lost Confederate warship all his treasure-hunting life. Aided by his plucky partner Al Giordino (Steve Zahn, playing the same damned goofball sidekick he’s played in every movie he’s ever been in), he has become a successful adventurer who scours the ocean for lost historical artifacts. When a scavenging job off the coast of Nigeria brings the promise of possibly finding this ghost ship (The ironclad zipped across the Atlantic Ocean and right up the Niger River. Sure.), Dirk and Al pile into a boat and head up the Niger to look for it.
Plot the Second: Penelope Cruz plays a workaholic World Health Organization doctor who stumbles across a strange and disturbing disease among a handful of people in Lagos, Nigeria. Eager to stave off an outbreak and discover the origins of this illness, she runs afoul of some goons, gets saved by Our Hero, and joins them in their expeditionary trip up river into Mali. (Er, Nigeria doesn’t border Mali. Nor is it particularly accessible via the Niger, but whatever. Perhaps they wanted the scenic route.) They soon come up against Mali’s evil dictator and unravel both the cause of the plague and the locale of the mysterious relic.
Plot #1 and Plot #2 are clearly meant to intertwine and end up at the same place, but it’s never clear which one is supposed to take precedent. The basis behind the movie seems to be the former, and yet 75 percent of the exposition is devoted to the latter. If not for the characters being the same, it would be fairly difficult to associate the two storylines in any way, and the screenwriters have to make preposterous leaps in continuity to get the two back together.
Forgiving the writing, which requires a complete suspension of disbelief regarding acoustics, geography, physics, virology, and metallurgy, the frenetic action isn’t good enough to salvage the film either. The set pieces—everything from boat chases to shootouts to fist fights under a helicopter—manage to be both implausible and still predictable.
It’s a shame too, because the first 30 minutes or so of Sahara was almost enough to fool me. The characters seemed likable: McConaughey somehow manages to appear genuinely charming and enthusiastic, even in an overused archetype; Steve Zahn’s goofiness felt appropriately placed; and Penelope Cruz, if unable to express any emotion until she’s being knocked down, was at least pretty. The West African locale also provided some magnificent eye candy. Sadly, McConaughey’s wiles can’t hold up the silly writing, Zahn’s comic relief becomes maddening, and Cruz doesn’t don a bikini until the last two minutes of the movie. What else is new?
Phillip Stephens is a movie critic for Pajiba.