Dashing heroes, feisty heroines, slimy villains, wisecracking sidekicks, things that explode, Sahara travels a familiar action movie road map, a by-the-numbers adventure which filters every frame through a nostalgic prism. All that sparkle can’t hide the fact Sahara feels like yesterday’s news.

Mixing espionage and pseudo history, author Clive Cussler’s series of Dirk Pitt novels were perfect page turners for a long, lazy summer. Too bad Sahara has been turned into a long, lazy film, one which took four writers to come up with the obvious. Since Sahara’s publication in 1992, so much sand has flowed through the hourglass of time the movie comes off looking like an impersonator.

Sahara is a movie for people who complain they don’t make them like they used to, always forgetting older isn’t necessarily better. Indeed, Sahara feels like a David Lean film pumped up on adrenaline, lacking common sense and featuring combustible paper-thin performances which incinerate under the hot sun. I was wrong, Sahara is nothing like a David Lean film.

It= s not much fun either. Director Breck Eisner paints every scene with a broad stroke, giving the production a larger-than-life look but robbing the story of any intimacy. Pitt, played by Matthew McConaughey, and the rest of the actors are nothing more than action figures in the hands of a director hell-bent on getting his money’s worth. If bigger were better, Sahara would be a masterpiece.

Pitt was created as an amalgamation of types, part James Bond, part Indiana Jones, part Jacques Cousteau, but as played by McConaughey, he’s more like a frat boy with a cool job. As a fan of the Cussler novels, I must admit McConaughey, with his baby blues and Clan of the Cave Bear wavy locks, isn’t believable as the seasoned adventurer. I like McConaughey, but he’s all wrong as Pitt. He’s too young. Remember, Pitt is the guy who raised the Titanic.

As the resident explorer of the National Underwater and Marine Agency, Pitt specializes in locating and retrieving lost ships. Pitt and former Navy SEAL sidekick Al Giordino (Steve Zahn, the go-to go for laughs) are in the middle of the Sahara tracking down a missing Civil War Ironclad. A Civil War-era coin leads the duo to hell on earth, where they encounter World Health Organization doctor Dr. Eva Rojas (Penelope Cruz), looking for the source of a deadly plague.

Talk about ships passing in the night, Pitt and Rojas cross paths several times, play a ping pong game of rescue, and then discover they= re both looking for the same thing. No, not a better movie, but a recycling plant in the middle of nowhere run by a shady French industrialist (Lambert Wilson). What the plant is doing in the middle of the Sahara I’ll leave to those of you brave enough to sit through the movie without fear of getting sand in your crack.

Top heavy with good intentions that fall flat on their face, Sahara, like Terry Malloy in On The Waterfront, coulda been a contender. Instead, it’s a noisy retrograde that doesn=t bode well for a continuing Dirk Pitt franchise. After the debacle of 1980’s Raise The Titanic, Cussler kept a tight grasp on the remaining Pitt books, afraid Hollywood would turn his hero into a has been.

Perhaps by holding on to the purse strings for so long Cussler has shortchanged the series. I remember reading Night Probe and Iceberg, thinking to myself, wow, these books would make great movies. But that was over twenty years ago, and the tattered edges of time are evident in Sahara. Time has not been kind to Dirk Pitt. If this wreck were on the side of the road I doubt it would affect the flow of traffic. Most people would take one look, wonder what all the fuss was about, then move along.

Desert Pitt Stop

Clive Cusslers Adventurer Ambles Along


Matthew McConaughey, Penelope Cruz, Steve Zahn, William H. Macy, Lambert Wilson. Directed by Breck Eisner. Rated PG-13. 124 Minutes.


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