Dir: Breck Eisner. US. 2005. 124 mins.

Sahara is a brave attempt by an independent company - Phillip Anschutz’s Anschutz Film Group - to launch a new action hero franchise, this one modeled on Clive Cussler’s Dirk Pitt character. The film is a lavishly mounted, old-fashioned adventure picture which pitches Pitt somewhere betweenIndiana Jones, James Bond and Jack Ryan. Disappointingly, he comes in fourth asa result of decidedly flavourless characterization and one-dimensional storytelling.

That said, the movie should be a sizeable moneyspinner worldwide. If broad popcorn adventure movies like The Mummy and National Treasure can make a mint, Sahara should create excitement in the marketplace. It’s engaging and exotic, boasts some kick-ass action sequences and tip-top production values, not to mention a worthy underlying environmental message.

Paramount opened the movie at number one in the US and UK over the weekend with strong if not spectacular figures, and Summit Entertainment and its international distributorswill be eyeing the film’s progress to see if Dirk Pitt can generate the boxoffice firepower to warrant a sequel.

The director here is a feature first-timer, Breck Eisner, the son of media mogul Michael Eisner, whose TV credits include Steven Spielberg-produced miniseries Taken. Eisner does a good job of orchestrating action sequences, but falls down somewhat in the scenes in-between. The characters are poorly drawn from the start, the relationships between them are sketched in the broadest of brush-strokes and any romantic chemistry between McConaughey and the lead actress Penelope Cruz is not perceptible to the audience.

The film kicks off with a prologue set in the American Civil War in which a Civil War battleship escapes down river from a battleground.

Action then shifts to contemporary west Africa where improbably World Health Organisation (WHO) doctor Eva Rojas (Cruz) discovers several cases of apossibly plague which looks to be emanating from the country of Mali. While visiting a victim one day, she is beaten up by two mysterious men and rescued by Dirk Pitt (McConaughey), a nautical explorer who works under the auspices of NUMA (National Underwater And Marine Agency) headed by Admiral James Sandecker (Macy). His partner in all his expeditions is Al Giordino (Kahn).

Pitt’s lifelong ambition has been to find the Civil War battleship which, according to legend, crossed the Atlantic and ended up in western Africa. When he finds afabled coin which points to Mali as the location of the ship, he and Giordinoset off there, taking Eva and her partner Dr Hopper (Turman) with them. Oncethere, they separate, Pitt and Giordino to pursue the lost ship, Rojas andHopper to investigate the source of the plague.

Pittand Giordino are quickly confronted by hostile local police forces working forthe corrupt government and realize that their target is Rojas. They rush to heraid but by the time they find her, Hopper has been killed. The three of themwork out that the water source in the country is being poisoned, and that the government is behind it.

The movie climaxes at a large solar energy plant in the middle of the desert, reminiscent of any number of James Bond villains’ lairs. A finale in which the missing battleship emerges out of nowhere takes the story well out of therealms of thriller and into the absurd.

Beautifully shot in Moroccan locations by Seamus McGarvey, the film nevertheless lacks the degree of mystery and intrigue which so enlivened Raiders Of The Lost Ark. Eisner’s choice of 70s rock songs to characterise Pitt’s adventures only serves to make it feel more frivolous.


Prodcos:Bristol Bay Productions, Baldwin Entertainment Group, jk livin,Kanzaman
US dist: Paramount Pictures
Int’l sales:Summit Entertainment (+ 1 310 309 8400)
Exec prods:Matthew McConaughey, Gus Gustawes, William J Immerman, Vicki Dee Rock
Prods:Howard Baldwin, Karen Baldwin, Mace Neufeld, Stephanie Austin
Scr:Thomas Dean Donnelly & Joshua Oppenheimer, John C Richards and James VHart, based on the novel by Clive Cussler
DoP:Seamus McGarvey
Proddes:Allan Cameron
Ed:Andrew MacRitchie
Mus:Clint Mansell
Maincast:Matthew McConaughey, Steve Zahn, Penelope Cruz, Lambert Wilson,William H Macy, Glynn Turman, Delroy Lindo