April, 2005, Thriller

Directed by:Zoltán Korda

Starring:Humphrey Bogart, Bruce Bennett, Lloyd Bridges, J. Naish, and Dan Duryea

Action movies, like comedies, rarely win Academy Awards, but they certainly sell well. From the James Bond and Die Hard series to any number of Schwarzenegger efforts, exotic locations, virile heroes and hiss-able villains have long been a bankable recipe for box-office, if not critical, success. So it should come as no surprise that this current entry in the genre has already generated a lot of revenue. The startling news is that this adaptation of a Clive Cussler novel is also great fun to watch.

Matthew  McConaughey plays Cussler’s stock-in-trade superhero Dirk Pitt, an ex-military wunderkind now in the employ of an ecologically sensitive marine salvage company run by retired Admiral Sandecker, (William H. Macy). Convinced that a fortune in gold coins lies buried somewhere in Africa in the hold of an iron-plated Confederate battleship that crossed the Atlantic in the closing days of the Civil War, Pitt and his sidekick Al Giordiano, (Steve Zahn)  venture into a war-torn African country in the company of Dr. Eva Rojas, (Penelope Cruz) a World Health Organization specialist in infectious diseases. She’s attempting to track a mysterious, fatal epidemic to its source;  in the course of doing so, she and Pitt encounter local dicatators, native warlords, eco-terrorists, antique touring cars and even pictographs which contain important clues to the long lost treasure. None of this makes any sense, of course, but director Breck Eisner, (son of beleaguered Disney chief executive Michael Eisner) has the good sense to serve up his storyline with a minimum of dialogue accompanied by a large dose of increasingly well-paced derring-do as the movie builds to its impressively pyrotechnic climax. Bubble gum for the masses it may be, but Sahara has the good sense not to take itself too seriously, and the sheer chutzpa of Pitt & Co. is fun to watch. 

McConaughey, sporting a golden tan, winning smile and Rambo-like upper torso, generates just the kind of devil-may-care screen charisma that was the stock in trade of old-time Hollywood matinee idols like Error Flynn and the young Burt Lancaster. As an epidemiologist who’s pretty decent with a sub-machine gun, Cruz manages to rack up yet another performance in which she looks lovely while utterly failing to generate any credibility whatsoever. Macy and Zahn , while thoroughly competent, are largely wasted in roles primarily designed to explain various plot shifts. 

Silly? Yes, but silliness delivered with professional skill. 

The Verdict? If you’re the kind of movie-goer who isn’t embarrassed to admit an abiding affection for the goofiness of Spielberg’s Indiana Jones or the preposterous opening scenes in every James Bond flick, this one’s for you.  

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