The farther and farther we get
from the 1980s, the farther we get from adventure
films with interesting characters, dramatic development,
pacing, and solid scripting. Adventure serials
of the 1930s and 1940s were understandably shallow.
They only had so much time to devote to characters,
while the rest was all plot and action.
as Dirk Pitt.
Adventure was reinvented in the
early 1980s with films like Raiders
of the Lost Ark and Romancing
the Stone. These films took the ideas of the
serials and expanded the neglected areas to round
out great stories with intriguing heroes and villains.
Unfortunately, as time has passed, substance has
given way to style and characters have become
mere impressions rather than whole individuals.
It’s hard to care about characters
on screen anymore, especially action heroes. We
know nothing about them. Should these films be
reviewed in the context of modern filmmaking sensibilities,
as it appears this will not change anytime soon,
or should they be compared to what has come before?
I vote for the latter. Which brings us to Sahara.
Based on the best-selling Dirk Pitt
novels by Clive Cussler, Sahara
is another rollicking adventure with the intrepid
fortune hunter, Pitt, played by Matthew McConaughey.
Pitt and his partner, Al, played by the always-funny
Steve Zahn, work for William H. Macy, whose organization
helps nations recover their lost and legendary
treasures. Pitt has a side quest however. He is
obsessed with the fate of the Texas, a Confederate
ironclad that disappeared at the end of the Civil
War and was never found.
While fortune hunting in Nigeria,
Pitt follows some clues that lead him to believe
the Texas might be buried in the sands of the
African desert. With Al at his side, Pitt takes
off for Mali, the nation that hints as being the
location of the lost ship. At the same time, Penelope
Cruz plays a doctor with the World Health Organization
trying to find the source of what seems to be
a plague in Mali. But is it really plague, or
a corrupt military dictator deliberately poisoning
his own people? Cruz’ path collides with
Pitt and all hell breaks loose.
Pitt and partner Al.
The story is very shallow, the character
development non-existent. However, the film does
move at a very nice clip and the action scenes
are engaging and well conceived. The highlight
of the film is Steve Zahn, whose character always
has something entertaining to say just when you
think it’s about to become cliché.
Of course, the film is rather cliché, but
it doesn’t take itself too seriously, so
there are no fingers to point. Well, former Disney
CEO Michael Eisner’s son is the director,
and a first time one at that… maybe there’s
something to that… maybe.
McConaughey was born to play a James
Bond type and is right at home as Dirk Pitt. His
performance is just full of energy and charisma.
Of course, McConaughey has proved he can play
anything from a World War II submarine captain
to a dragon-killing warrior with complete credibility.
Cruz, as the female lead, does her best but falls
into the shadows in McConaughey and Zahn’s
wake. I don’t know why Hollywood keeps trying
to get audiences to bank on her. She’s not
terrible, but the roles she’s taken have
not showcased her in any way. She sometimes seems
on autopilot here.
All in all, Sahara
is entertaining adventure fare. Don’t think
too deep though, and don’t expect anything
profound. I’m writing this only thirty minutes
after having seen it, and I’ve already forgotten
half of what went on in the film. It’s not
bad, it’s not stellar, it’s not memorable,
but it is fun.
Indiana Jones references??? Umm…
Well, they have a coin which is kinda like the
headpiece to the Staff of Ra because it starts
the quest and they are looking for a lost ship.
However, there isn’t any magic to speak
of in the film, no ancient powers, and the object
in question isn’t really legendary. Did
I mention they spend the film in the desert? That’s
like Indiana Jones right? Yeah, I know, I’m
reaching. It’s not really like Indiana Jones,
it’s just trying to claim it is so more
people will go see it. (MF)