Matthew McConaughey as Dirk Pitt
Steve Zahn as Al Giordino
Penélope Cruz as Eva Rojas
Lambert Wilson as Massarde
Glynn Turman as Dr. Hopper
Delroy Lindo as CIA Agent Carl
William H. Macy as Admiral James Sandecker
Dayna Cussler as Kitty Mannock
Clint Dyer as Oshodi
Lennie James as General Kazim
Patrick Malahide as Ambassador Polidori
Rainn Wilson as Rudi Gunn

If you liked National Treasure then there’s a pretty good chance you’ll enjoy Sahara.

This film is based on the Dirk Pitt novel “Sahara” by Clive Cussler.

Dirk Pitt is an adventurer. He’s a former Navy Seal, a nautical archeologist, and a globetrotting researcher for NUMA. Accompanied by his friends Al Giordino and Admiral James Sandecker, he travels the world looking for ship wrecks, sunken treasure, and scientific discoveries. His latest adventure takes him and his crew to Lagos, Nigeria. While recovering a lost golden statue, he also chases down the legend of a mysterious Confederate Ironclad that was last seen in the area with a large load of gold. Pitt believes he’s close to finding the lost ship up the Niger River.

Along the way his path crosses with Eva Rojas, a beautiful doctor with the WHO. She’s investigating the outbreak of a mysterious plague and believes the source is up the river in war torn Mali. She convinces Pitt to take her and some medical equipment up the river with him. Little do they realize that the malicious dictator of Mali doesn’t want anyone snooping in his country or finding the source of the plague. He sends his soldiers to kill our heroes and thus the adventure begins.

Sahara is rated PG-13 for action violence.

What Worked:
Going into Sahara, I didn’t have much hope that it would be good. I had spoken to people who had seen it and they hated it. I told colleagues at work that I was going to screen it and they snickered saying it looked like a bad Mummy rip-off. In fact, as the movie started, a reviewer sitting next to me fell asleep and started snoring loudly. But despite all this, I enjoyed Sahara quite a bit. It was very much in the spirit of National Treasure. It’s simply a good old fashioned treasure hunt and adventure. And there is no magic or monsters like you’d see in a Mummy movie. The only similarity is the desert.

I’ve only read one Dirk Pitt novel and it wasn’t Sahara, so I can’t comment on how closely they followed the book. But I’d be willing to bet that they took a number of liberties with it. Despite this, the spirit of the character is still here. Pitt is a cross between Indiana Jones, James Bond, and Jacques Cousteau. And as silly as that sounds, it still works. They manage to make the outrageous character and the unbelievable premises just realistic enough that you accept it and go along for the ride.

The real attraction of Sahara is the action and there’s plenty of it. The film starts out with an impressive Civil War battle between an Ironclad and some land-based cannons. Later on there’s a fun boat chase on the river. Follow that with some hand to hand combat, a helicopter and car chase, and a last stand against a Mali army and you have plenty to entertain action fans.

Matthew McConaughey isn’t who I would have chosen to play Dirk Pitt, but he does a decent enough job. He handles the action well and he has a childlike enthusiasm about history. That’s enough to make the character somewhat believable, but your enjoyment of the film will heavily depend on if you like the actor or not. He’s supported by Steve Zahn as Al Giordino. Zahn pretty much steals every scene he’s in. Some of his gags are a bit forced, but he does generate a number of the best laughs in the adventure. Also getting a lot of laughs is William H. Macy as Admiral James Sandecker and Rainn Wilson as Rudi Gunn, the techno-geek of the lot. Penélope Cruz is pretty and tough as Eva Rojas. Fortunately Cruz keeps her character relatively realistic when faced with the action.

The locations in the film are quite exotic and beautiful. I can’t think of too many movies with a Nigerian setting, but this manages to make West Africa look a bit better than you might expect. The sets are also quite detailed and impressive. From Pitt’s NUMA ship to the Civil War Ironclad, the backgrounds are crawling with detail. The soundtrack also helps add to the film. It’s a bizarre mix of Southern rock classics and African sounding tunes. It works pretty well together.

What Didn’t Work:
First off, the marketing for this film hasn’t been very good. This movie isn’t like The Mummy as you might expect. It’s more National Treasure or Indiana Jones mixed with Tom Clancy than anything else. The ads might lead you to believe otherwise.

And like many Hollywood action-adventures, it requires a lot of suspension of disbelief despite being somewhat grounded in reality. For example, Pitt recovers a gold statue out of the ocean then cleans it up and puts it on display mere hours later. It’s hardly realistic. Then there’s a boat chase in the Niger River where Dirk should simply jump off the speeding boat to get away, but he doesn’t because it would be less exciting. There’s also questionable science regarding the plague, the source of it, and other things. I won’t spoil them here, but suffice it to say they could have made it realistic without much effort and it would have been just as exciting.

Bottom Line:
If you liked National Treasure, Matthew McConaughey, Steve Zahn, or Penelope Cruz, then you’ll want to check out Sahara. And the millions of Dirk Pitt fans will want to check it out as well.