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Toxic Desert Caper
Sahara  (DVD)
Member Name: Mauri
Sahara  (DVD)
Advantages: Decent action scequences and some good performances
Disadvantages: Lack of chemistry between male and female leads
How to describe it? Well think Indiana Jones meets James Bond and you get a fairly good idea of what to expect.
The film starts in 1865 during the American Civil War. The stakes for both sides had just got higher with the invention of the Ironclads, warships covered in iron plates making them the most powerful weapons of their time. One such Ironclad on the Confederate side the ‘Texas’, is under attack but then mysteriously disappears into the mist never to be seen again. Wind forward more than a century and we meet Dirk Pitt (ex- marine) an adventurer/ treasure hunter part of the NUMA (National Underwater and Marine Agency) a sort of archaeological A-Team led by retired admiral Admiral Jim Sandecker. Pitt is obsessed with finding the lost ironclad and when some information comes his way that suggests the ship might have made its way across the Atlantic the temptation is too much and with the admiral's lukewarm blessing he and his lifelong buddy and NUMA colleague Al Giordino head off to the Niger follow up some more leads.
Meanwhile in the Niger glamorous World Health Organisation (WHO) scientist Eva Rojas is investigating the possible outbreak of plague in the region. It’s not long before her path crosses that of Pitt and thus begins an adventure that takes them into the desolation of the Sahara where they have to prevent a global catastrophe instigated by evil African dictator General Zateb Kazim.
The film is based on the novels of Clive Cussler also famous for another screen adaptation of his book ‘Raise the Titanic’ in the 80’s. Cussler is also known for founding the real life NUMA in the 70’s, which still exists. Just like the novels the film is made to be a rip-roaring adventure where any improbability in the plot is cleverly covered over by the fast pace of the narrative.
CAST, PERFORMANCES AND OPINION
Penélope Cruz .... Eva Rojas
Matthew McConaughey .... Dirk Pitt
Steve Zahn .... Al Giordino
William H. Macy .... Admiral Jim Sandecker
Lennie James .... General Zateb Kazim
Directed by Breck Eisner
Matthew McConaughey is a reasonable action hero showing off his gym toned body at every opportunity and mixing it with the best henchmen the script can throw at him. He’s no Indiana Jones though, lacking most of the charm that Harrison Ford would bring to such a role. His main co-star is Penelope Cruz who I admit is not one of my favourite actresses. She also does a fair job at playing the feisty intelligent heroin that despite being a top medical scientist does scrub up rather well in a coutured ball gown. For me she lacks any charisma and there seems to be little chemistry between her and McConaughey a feature of these film that is very important to its success; think back to Harrison Ford and his leading ladies such as Karen Allen in the first Indie Jones movie or Michael Douglas and Kathleen Turner in ‘Romancing the Stone’. For me the ‘X’ factor between McConaughey and Cruz just wasn’t there, which is a major flaw. Having said this the support cast was better. Comic sidekick Steve Zahn as Al Giordino is a surprise scene-stealer and manages to combine well the action sequences with comedy without becoming simply a vehicle for laughs. In contrast to McConaughey and Cruz the onscreen chemistry between McConaughey and Zahn is excellent and they are believable as best buddies this does a lot to reprieve the movie from being just another action adventure clone of the more successful Indiana Jones franchise.
William H Macy who is a favourite of mine is underused having no more than a cameo role as the large cigar smoking Sandecker but again he lights up the screen with his dead pan understated performance.
Lennie James the talented British actor plays the movie’s main villain but he’s not sinister or menacing enough to compare to the great Bond baddies. I make the Bond comparison for a reason as the film progresses it seemed to turn from a swashbuckling adventure into an action thriller complete with high tech Bond finale featuring a desert solar plant and a ticking ‘bomb’.
The action sequences raging from speedboat and helicopter chases to massive explosions and hand-to-hand combat are all well staged and make good use of special effects.
Of course any film that is titled Sahara will include plenty of action in the desert and this does not disappoint. The scenic shots of the rolling dunes like some huge ocean made of sand are impressive as is the overall lighting and cinematography.
One other aspect of the film to mention is the soundtrack, which shunned the more orchestral music (well it was there in part but wasn’t that memorable) typical of this genre for using a very good rock soundtrack. Included in the film are an unusual variety of songs by such bands as The Faces (Stay With Me), Lynyrd Skynyrd (Sweet Home Alabama), Steppenwolf (Magic Carpet Ride) and Dr. John (Right Place Wrong Time). Some classy selection in there!
The film is just short of two hours but the time seemed to go by very quickly as the pace of the story never let up and I suppose director Breck Eisner must be congratulated for this.
For those of you who might consider watching this with your kids beware that for some reason it is certified as a 12, which seems a little excessive since I can only remember one moment of real violence in it that might disturb younger children overall the action is comic book style and no worse than you would see in many other films with lower certificates and fortunately or unfortunately depending on your point of view there is no sexual content whatsoever.
The film is set up at the end with a view to sequels so expect Dirk and Al to maybe make the screens sometimes soon if the original made enough of an impact on Hollywood producers.
Overall this was an enjoyable but ultimately forgettable popcorn movie. Nothing wrong with that but you wouldn’t want to spend lots of money buying the two disc special edition on DVD since I doubt it would bear watching more than one or twice unlike the Indy Jones movies that can be viewed again and again.
Recommended…yes, just about! (I wish you could give three and a half stars in these ratings!)
© Mauri 2006
Summary: Fast paced action adventure set in Africa