Wednesday, September 07, 2005

MOVIES: Sahara

Sahara is right up there in the dubious company of National Treasure and the Tomb Raider movies: solid, well-crafted, reasonably enjoyable action adventures that are almost entirely, and instantly, forgettable.

The most entertaining element of Sahara is the easy interplay between Matthew McConaughey, as treasure hunter Dirk Pitt (Buck Plankchest! Brick Hardmeat!), and Steve Zahn as partner/sidekick Al Giordino. McConaughey is now probably better known for naked bongoing than his acting career, but he does have movie star charisma, and is extremely charming and likeable as Pitt. And Zahn is, as he so often is, the single best thing in the film. You know who he should make a movie with? Paul Rudd -- another guy who is often the best thing in any movie he appears in. I think they'd be an excellent screen pairing. (Oh, wait, they already appeared in a movie together, and it sucked.)

Rainn Wilson (probably best known for taking the "Gareth" role in the American version of The Office) is also funny as the secondary sidekick, and William H. Macy appears to have a lot of fun (while collecting a fat paycheck) as Admiral Sandecker, Dirk and Al's boss. And Penelope Cruz, as Eva Rojas, the World Health Organization's hottest doctor, is perfectly fine as the love interest. Though strangely, the romantic subplot is almost non-existent -- I mean, even more non-existent than it usually is in an action film. Cruz and McConaughey have flirty chemistry, but there's never really any romantic pursuit. The movie just kind of assumes that these two pretty people deserve to be together, and therefore why waste any time showing the process? It's just a given: they're a couple, now here's some stuff blowing up. They don't even kiss until the final scene, after all the action is done. Maybe it's just me, but that seemed weird.

Obviously, it's the action that matters in this film, and I have to say, the action works pretty well. It's generally ridiculously over-the-top, as tongue-in-cheek as it is exciting, but that's an intentional choice of the movie, and it worked for me. The best sequences are in vehicles, primarily performed without CGI assistance. There's a great battle between boats on a river, and there's a very nice chase scene involving a car and a helicopter. There's even a bit involving camels running after a train that's fairly impressive. And I liked that Zahn, even though he's the sidekick, didn't sit on the sidelines during fight scenes. It's made clear his character is just as formidable as McConaughey's, so Zahn is right in the middle of things, throwing punches and firing guns.

There's a little too much plot getting in the way of the action, as there often is in these Raiders-type treasure hunt movies. This one involves a plague, warring rebel forces, the CIA, a solar energy power plant, and a U.S. Civil War battleship that somehow got beached in Africa. And there's very little reason to care about any of it. It's not difficult to follow, it's just a bit too ambitious.

Although if there's something this film's got in spades, it's ambition. A ton of money was spent on Sahara, and it's all onscreen, from the vast armies of extras to the giant sets to the explosive stuntwork. It's obvious the studio wanted a franchise. The film's poor showing at the box office doesn't shout "sequel" to me, though. All in all, I got enough light entertainment that I'd see another one of these films with the same cast -- maybe even in the theater this time -- but I'm not exactly going to be heartbroken if that next film never materializes.

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