In this second attempt to launch a multiplex franchise of Clive Cussler’s popular Dirk Pitt series, Matthew McConaughey is onboard with reinforced hairline and day-glo teeth as the brash adventurer, a cross between James Bond and Indiana Jones. Here, with wise-cracking sidekick Al (Steve Zahn), he enters a civil-war-torn Mali in search of a Confederate ironclad that disappeared toward the end of the American Civil War, carrying a booty of Rebel gold coins. (Apply suspension of disbelief liberally here.) Along the way, he hooks up with a World Health Organization doctor (Penàlope Cruz), who is seeking the source of a plague that threatens the locals. Adventure abounds.
It took several books before the author’s own personality began to subsume his creation, but as executive producer on the film McConaughey cuts to the chase and re-images the character to fit his own persona, smooth-talking surfer boy by way of Texas. I suppose it works if you haven’t read the books.
The chemistry between him, Cruz and Zahn does work, however, although I suspect Zahn was directed to tone down his shtick so as not to steal scenes from the star. The action sequences are handled well, aside from the intrusion of a wildly inappropriate classic rock soundtrack. “Sweet Home Alabama” and a French villain—can you get anymore Yankee-centric than that? Yee-haw.
Quibbles and bits aside, Sahara is perfectly disposable matinee eye candy if one can swallow the implausible storyline and over-reliance on prefab coincidence.