January 20, 2006
Clive Cussler’s adventure novel gets the big screen treatment with Matthew McConaughey and Steve Zahn on the trail of buried treasure in the desert (you can guess which one).
Scanning the bookshelf at your local, well book shop, you would think Clive Cussler was a big deal. And you’d be right; he’s written numerous popular adventure novels featuring his marine-based hero Dirk Pitt. But as far as movie adaptations go Sahara is only his second in twenty years (Raise the Titanic being the first and scientists shattered his theories a couple of years later when the ship was found in pieces). It’s a shame it’s taken so long for Dirk to be brought to life, as his sub-aquatic escapades seem perfect material for the 80’s alongside Romancing the Stone or Indiana Jones. There’s the wisecracking sidekick, the damsel in distress, the henchmen and the buried treasure – all things that are now dismissed as clichés from such demanding modern movie-goers.
McConaughey’s Pitt spends his downtime away from NUMA (National Underwater and Marine Agency) hunting the legend of a civil-war battleship that was said to have carried a huge shipment of gold across the country and then vanished into thin air. By chance he and his best friend Al Giordino stumble across a clue that leads them to track the ship in Africa. Meanwhile a doctor with the World Health Organisation discovers something is poisoning the water and her efforts to expose the danger puts her on a hit-list with a local warlord. When Pitt saves her life they discover they may be after the same thing…
McConaughey seems to take roles these days that merely require him to buff up and grin a lot (which admittedly he does well) and it’s easy to forget his great performances in A Time To Kill and Contact. Thankfully we have Steve Zahn to make us chuckle, but that’s a no-brainer. Whether he’s moaning about losing his hat or talking to himself about always being left with the bill, the man just oozes humour. Sadly he’s the best character on display as we know little about Dirk other than he likes to dive, and Cruz just has to run and get captured by the bad guys a lot. Eisner’s direction is efficient but non-descript and the plot-holes are large enough for a bus to fall into (a 150 year old rusty cannon wouldn’t move an inch, let alone be in full working order).
What makes this tip over into the realm of “idiotic in a good way” is the overall sense of 80’s lightheartedness had by all. Witness Zahn charging a man with a gun when he himself has run out of bullets, or Dirk and Al’s innovative solution to getting across a desert with only plane wreckage. A sequel might broaden the characters (Macy has little to do other than frown at documents) but this seems unlikely given Sahara’s modest box office. What we’re left with is a dated but enjoyable boy’s adventure romp full of guns, gals and bombs.
None. Which means a special edition will be out as soon as everyone has already bought this, gosh darn it.