Review: “Sahara”

Certainly nothing like the disaster that was 1980’s “Raise the Titanic”, the first cinematic attempt to bring Clive Cussler’s heroic Dirk Pitt literary character to the big screen, “Sahara” nevertheless can’t help but feel like a poor man’s “Indiana Jones”.

Not as cheesy as “Allan Quatermain” or as poorly penned as the “Tomb Raider” films, the African-hopping adventure nevertheless feels tired and cliche throughout despite noble attempts by the likeable cast to inject some enthusiasm into their run of the mill adventures. Originally hoping for a release last Summer, Paramount pushed it back to Spring this year in an interesting marketing move. Funnily enough it kind of worked, this is very much a Summer release style movie and after several months of pure crap in the cinemas its a welcome albeit familiar alternative.

The assorted writers on the project struggle to bring credibility to an all too implausible plot that, when it stays limited to its immediate environs, works well. Unfortunately it tries too hard and all too often feels it must come up with more and more elaborate trickery ranging from an armoured civil war submarine and a waste recycling plant in the desert, to a biological threat to the entire global ecosystem.

Throw in convenient “what are you doing here” style meetings, all too quick and easy attempts to cross one of the world’s most dangerous terrains, and an awkward clumping together of McConaughey and Cruz’s separate subplots and you get a story that’s so ridiculous it’s laughable.

Yet entertaining it is. Eisner’s directing makes for some good action sequences including a well-shot river boat chase sequence and a fight and escape from a gleaming solar power facility. Often the action takes over the narrative when it happens, but in this case that’s a good thing.

Welcome to is the little twinkle of humour in everyone’s eye – despite being stuck with some tired jokes, Steve Zahn and Rainn Wilson as the bumbling techie sidekicks to McConaughey’s adventurous Pitt are decent comic relief. Macy in particular is able to hold his own despite essentially being the butt of an all too repeated joke throughout the flick.

As for the leads, McConaughey and Cruz do alright but neither is particularly stellar or make the characters their own, it’s more like they just wanted to play action hero and tried it out rather than coming up with solid characters. They’re still more interesting than their villainous counterparts – Lambert Wilson and Lennie James portraying a dull French industrial magnate and a corrupt Mali general respectively.

Filming around Morocco has provided for an effectively desert feel (albeit one lacking the sheer beauty of the mid-Sahara) and cinematographer Seamus McGarvey shoots the hell out of some great locations such as the bandits city.

Yet this is combined with a somewhat dated WB show style soundtrack of pop songs. It just underlines the central problem of the whole film – essentially for everything interesting or fresh, there’s a half dozen elements that have been done all too many times before.

If this had come out last Summer as intended, it would neither have made the ‘worst of’ nor ‘best of’ lists of the season – it’s too ordinary to be in the latter group and yet simplistically enjoyable enough that it saves itself from becoming the former. A somewhat decent night out so long as you’re not expecting much, but it’s a journey that will vanish from your memory as fast as the sands sweep across the real Sahara Desert.