In this week's release of the action-adventure yarn, "Sahara," there are two bits of dialogue that occur late in the film but are indicative of everything that precedes them. They are "It will never work -- Why not?" and "There's no way that should have worked." The second part of the first exchange demonstrates the film's anything-goes attitude, while the second phrase is what many viewers will like saying during and after the film.
That's not referring to the picture as an artistic or entertaining whole, but rather its many individual moments that are so far-fetched and/or hokey that they make cinematic cousins such as "National Treasure" seem like scientific, physical and coincidental reality. Based on the Clive Cussler novel of the same name and featuring his long-running and trademarked heroic character, Dirk Pitt, the film requires so much suspension of disbelief that the well of that precious cinematic commodity has probably run dry for the rest of this year's offerings.
Then again, and considering the carefree, pedal to the metal, '70s era soundtrack that fills the film, maybe its target audience of less discerning, anything-is-okay-with-me viewers might not give a hoot about reality or even storytelling believability. The filmmakers -- director Breck Eisner (making his feature debut) and his screenwriting quartet of Thomas Dean Donnelly & Joshua Oppenheimer (ditto for both) and John C. Richards ("Nurse Betty") and James V. Hart ("Tuck Everlasting," "Contact") -- certainly don't seem to.
The story starts with a Civil War era prologue that leads to the notion that an ironclad from that era -- the unreliable precursor to modern day battleships that wasn't known for its distant seaworthiness -- has somehow ended up in the African desert. That, of course, is the catalyst for our heroic duo -- Matthew McConaughey and Steve Zahn -- to head there to search for it.
Not surprisingly, they dig up more than they were bargaining for -- including Penelope Cruz playing a World Health Organization doctor who turns out to be as proficient at climbing down water wells looking for clues as she is examining skin lesions. Various adventures and moments of peril then ensue as they try to find their ship and she tries to find a contagious disease.
Yet, despite all of the resultant action and notwithstanding putting all of the logic and credibility problems aside, the film is rather boring and can't shake the ever present "been there, seen that" aura that clings to it. Sure, there's lots of fighting, stunts and more -- all presented in something of a Bond meets Indiana Jones meets Romancing the Stone fashion -- but little of it's terribly exciting or engaging, and certainly none of it's novel.
And much of that likely stems from the fact that we don't believe in the characters, what they do and/or how they escape from or resolve their various predicaments. Many films push the credibility and believability factor to the limits. The best and most successful ones, though, seemingly effortlessly make viewers buy into their premise and developments hook, line and sinker. Unfortunately, the filmmakers here have missed that boat.
As the trademarked hero, McConaughey ("How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days," "Reign of Fire") certainly looks the tanned and chiseled part, and he has the correct rugged and devil may care attitude, but the script simply doesn't support his endeavors. In short, he's just an archetype and not a "real" person, meaning we don't get behind him and his endeavors as we did with Indiana Jones.
Zahn ("Daddy Day Care," "National Security") is similarly hampered and falls somewhere into the nebulous land between the usual sort of sarcastic characters he often plays and an action one, while Cruz ("Vanilla Sky," "Blow") is never believable as the doctor hunting down a terrible scourge.
Lambert Wilson ("Timeline," the "Matrix" films) and Lennie James ("24 Hour Party People," "Snatch") play the requisite villains but aren't that convincing or fun (which is important for a film like this), while William H. Macy ("Seabiscuit," "The Cooler") and Delroy Lindo ("The Core," "Get Shorty") are pretty much wasted in what amount to be extended cameo roles that have little to no direct contact with the main characters.
With so many choices, I'm not sure which bad part of the film was my "favorite." One features an obviously sentient soccer ball that leads Zahn's character through a village and then down into a hidden cave where an important clue is just waiting there for him. But by the time our heroes turn the discovered wreckage of an airplane into a massive desert windsurfing vehicle (why didn't they think of that in "Flight of the Phoenix?"), I'd repeated, "There's no way that could have worked" too many times to care anymore.
If you can manage to suspend all disbelief and any sort of cranial activity above what's needed to get your tuckus in a seat in front of the screen, you might be able to find something in here that might briefly entertain you. Otherwise, you might just feel like you're stranded in a cinematic desert watching an energetic but completely unbelievable and unrealistic mirage.