Sahara [2005]

It took more than 25 years for another Clive Cussler novel to come to the screen after the financial and critical disaster of Raise the Titanic. Based on Cussler's oddly landlocked adventure, Sahara finds the author's hero, Dirk Pitt (Matthew McConaughey)--a sort of all-American, high seas variation of James Bond--in Africa looking for a Confederate ironclad ship that impossibly might have ended up there. Soon he and his faithful sidekick Al Giordino (Steve Zahn) are lost in another adventure, discovering a deadly contaminate being tracked by a beautiful doctor (Penelope Cruz). The results are checkered: there's no one outstanding sequence, but the action is enjoyably varied, while the thrills are mild yet not bombastic or gratuitous. The cast are all adept in their roles, yet the only one who sparkles is the scene-stealing Zahn, cast against type; McConaughey, who also produced, knows he might be starting a franchise character and plays it safe. He's never as dangerous as Cussler's hero is on the page (except in his introduction), and in fact, the whole movie plays towards comedy, infused by a soundtrack of 70s FM radio monsters. Cussler fanatics may not like this lighter fare, especially with the archeological portion (a Cussler strong point) not fully embraced, but with a very, very likable cast and colorful settings, Sahara is a kindler, gentler action film that has all the elements in place for a better, more memorable franchise if anyone cares to attempt it. --Doug Thomas

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