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Review: ‘Sahara’ Is Indiana Jones Retread

April 8, 2005

“Sahara” feels like it’s jammed with more stuff – characters, plot lines, sight gags, explosions, buddy banter and the romantic flutter of gorgeous people falling in love – than there are grains of sand in the desert.

It’s an overlong (if occasionally thrilling) environmentally conscious retread of an Indiana Jones flick, complete with a character who’s overly attached to his hat.

But mainly it’s a popcorn movie that’s crammed with eye candy: As Dirk Pitt, hero of the Clive Cussler novel on which “Sahara” is based, Matthew McConaughey’s tan gets darker, his biceps grow bigger and his teeth brighten to a blinding shade of white even as he propels himself deeper into danger.

Every bit his equal in the looks department is Penelope Cruz, who appears to have stepped straight from one of her own Ralph Lauren ads no matter the predicament in which she finds herself. Formfitting khakis, tight tank tops and fashionably rumpled denim button-downs are the uniform when you’re Dr. Eva Rojas from the World Health Organization.

It’s no wonder these two stars reportedly fell in love on the set. How could they help themselves? McConaughey, though, has the charm but lacks the heft of a Harrison Ford; Cruz, meanwhile, is far more effective in her atypically dressed-down turn in the recent Italian drama “Don’t Move.”

Even the bad guys are good-looking in “Sahara.” Lambert Wilson, as French industrialist Yves Massarde, dresses and carries himself as if he were a model, too, even though he’s doing something dastardly involving toxic waste.

Confused? We’ll break it down for you, because a big, loud action movie shouldn’t make you work so hard.

Dirk and his best pal, fellow explorer Al Giordino (Steve Zahn, cracking wise once again as the wacky sidekick), are hunting for a long-lost Civil War battleship carrying hidden treasure, which they believe ended up in West Africa. (William H. Macy, in a rare commanding role, brings the movie some weight as their cigar-chomping, order-barking boss.)

At the same time and in the same region, Eva and her partner, Dr. Hopper (Glynn Turman), are hunting for the cause of a mysterious plague that has afflicted untold numbers of people.

Gee, do you think their searches could be connected? It’s an insane coincidence, but the first feature from director Breck Eisner (as in son-of-Michael) is chock full of them.

The two teams end up running into each other repeatedly, and while battling the unforgiving terrain – wide shots of which Eisner does capture beautifully – they also must fight sabotage attempts from a Malian warlord (Lennie James) and the aforementioned slick French industrialist.

Miraculously, Dirk, Al and Eva become expert camel riders, and in one sequence prove themselves so impossibly adept, they actually leap from the backs of their animals and onto the top of a speeding train.

But the onslaught from their enemies continues, in the form of numbing, nonstop gunfire. Cannon blasts and even an exploding helicopter eventually end up in the mix.

“I’m so sick of being shot at!” Al screams at one point.

And that’s sort of the same sensation one experiences in the audience.

“Sahara,” a Paramount Pictures release, is rated PG-13 for action violence. Running time: 124 minutes. Two stars out of four.

Motion Picture Association of America rating definitions:

G – General audiences. All ages admitted.

PG – Parental guidance suggested. Some material may not be suitable for children.

PG-13 – Special parental guidance strongly suggested for children under 13. Some material may be inappropriate for young children.

R – Restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.

NC-17 – No one under 17 admitted.

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