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As the audience exited the theatre after the screening of "Sahara," I overheard somebody say "This is the new 'Indiana Jones." And it is; it has so much preposterous action, so many corny jokes, so many unconsummated hints of PG-13 romance, so much implausible heroism, and, well, so much plot stuffed into its two hours that the film ends up absolutely lovable.
Would you believe, for example, that a Confederate ironclad ship carrying thousands of newly minted gold coins escaped from Richmond at the end of the Civil War, made its way across the Atlantic to the mouth of the Niger river at Lagos in Nigeria, then motored upstream a thousand miles to the desert in Mali - I speak, of course, of the Sahara - and then was covered in sand for a hundred and fifty years while no one knew where it was except for some cave people who scratched a drawing of it and then apparently died, or disappeared, or something, until our hero's sidekick found it while chasing a soccer ball down a street and into the cave.
Would you also believe that industrial wastes generated by a secret plant of some sort out in the middle of the Sahara could find their way into the river, contaminate the entire Niger basin, and then - if they're not caught in time - spread out through the Atlantic and contaminate all the oceans in the world, destroying all sea life? You would? Hey, why not? It's a movie. And that's just one small part of it, in which treasure hunter Dirk Pitt -don't you love that name - played by Matthew McConaughey - and his sidekick Al Giordino, played by Steve Zahn, combine with World Health Organization doctor without borders but with cleavage Penelope Cruz to deal with both crises. Oh, and there's more, lots more, involving a brutal African dictator, a renegade French industrialist, the CIA, and a retired U.S. admiral who has to keep picking up the pieces that Dirk leaves strewn about as he trashes the bad guys.
The film comes from a Clive Cussler novel, and we're told that Cussler was enraged that the film didn't have even more of his story in it, though that seems impossible to do in anything less than a week. It was directed by - and every critic mentions this, so I might as well - Michael Eisner's son Breck, and if I were you I wouldn't ask how he got that name. As it happens, Breck does an amazingly good job of keeping everything moving and yet under control. He knows where to put the cameras, when to cut from shot to shot and scene to scene for parallel action, and he obviously works well with actors. This is just his second feature but he seems to be the real thing.
Matthew McConaughey has the insouciance to pull off the role of Dirk, Steve Zahn is the classic foil-slash-sidekick, Cruz can barely speak English but is not outclassed by this group, and there's a lovely cameo performance by the underutilized Delroy Lindo as the CIA agent. Load up on the popcorn and Coke, go, and enjoy. That's what I did, and I didn't regret it for a minute. <! new pasted review ends on line above>