Okay, so this movie doesn't suck. Good thing because at two hours and change "Sahara" is one of those in-your-face action flicks that could have easily been an assault on your eyes and eardrums with your typical mind-numbing plot, unrealistic special effects and lots of kabooms.
To be sure, "Sahara" is full of kabooms and they begin early on as the film opens in 1865 at the end of the Civil War. The Confederate Army has built the Texas, an ironclad ship capable of withstanding cannon fire and high caliber assaults. What it's doing floating down the Niger River is really not important, but its discovery is.
Which brings us to Dirk Pitt, the world's sexiest explorer -- with that name you better be -- and former Navy SEAL, but mostly former SEAL considering the amount of time he spends exploring vs. administering headaches to a lot of nameless thugs. He's played by Matthew McConaughey in yet another role requiring the display of his impeccable shirtless body for the ladies to ogle. It's simply his thing.
Dirk works for Admiral James Sandecker (William H. Macy), his old military buddy and now successful explorer who funds extravagant trips around the world to uncover ancient artifacts for the National Underwater and Marine Agency (NUMA).
Competing for screen attention is Dirk's sidekick, Al (Steve Zahn at his finest), his trustworthy companion and best bud. Together they head to West Africa in search of the Texas with the reluctant financial backing of Sandecker who himself is preparing for a trip to Australia where he believes a more realistic endeavor is waiting.
Dirk and Al make their way to Mali where the World Health Organization's Dr. Eva Rojas (Penelope Cruz) is trying to find the source of an untreatable deadly plague that has already killed thousands and is spreading at an alarming rate, despite the fact government officials have little interest in cleaning up.
Of course there are bad guys. A warlord (Lennie James) who controls half of Mali has an alliance with some evil French dude (Lambert Wilson) who runs a mysterious power plant in the middle of the desert. Power and profit drive their malicious schemes and it's up to our heroes to stop them before total domination kicks in. How do we know the world faces catastrophe? Easily, by one of those helpful computer demonstrations that shows a river pollutant making its way into the Atlantic Ocean
"Sahara" is all about the action. Look for speedboat chases, helicopter flybys, camel rides, armored tanks, high powered trains that must be boarded mid-ride at high speed, ambushes and a crashed plane that would make you all too wrong if you tried to tell Dirk he couldn't get it to work.
Cum the impressive action sequences is a healthy dose of humor that works because of the chemistry between McConaughey and Zahn. Their characters are likeable and won me over as soon as they attempted to do a "Panama" while fleeing foot soldiers in Africa, a stunt they tried to do back in, well, Nicaragua. I'll let them do the explaining.
Zahn's sarcasm is perfected to a science as he takes the award for best sidekick in recent action cinema. He knows he role like no other and has no problem telling Dirk: "I'll find the bomb. You get the girl!" One can imagine how quickly Dirk agreed to the plan without objection.
The film has been directed by Breck Eisner in his feature debut, based on the lengthy 700 page novel by Clive Cussler and Eisner has no problem keeping it from unraveling. Some are already unfairly comparing "Sahara" to the likes of "Indiana Jones" but one should not expect something similar or even better, rather mindless fun.
It's a film you take at face value and appreciate it for its ability to entertain. It's one of those movies where the characters can make light of any situation, even when bullets are whizzing past their heads and death is knocking at their door. "Sahara" is a fun ride I recommend embarking on.