Film — Sahara (PG-13)
Sahara (PG-13)

by Amy Diaz

Matthew McConaughey hangs out in the desert looking for gold and listening to Skynyrd in the spring break-ishly lazy Sahara, a snack-cake version of an Indiana Jones-like adventure tale.

I’m sure it’s tough, acting with camels and having to spend several days shooting fight scenes and conversations full of wise-cracking banter in a blistering hot desert. But not so far from that desert are the postcard-perfect beaches where other parts of the movie are filmed. Also, how bad is the desert, really, when you have your very own trailer plus a team of make-up people ensuring that your skin never gets more than a healthy-looking sun blush? And, ultimately, McConaughey and costar Penelope Cruz started dating, so you know that, however cold it might get in the desert at night, neither of them felt much of the chill.

I can’t blame them for taking this movie — what I wouldn’t give for a sunny, all-expenses-paid get-away. And Steve Zahn, who rounds out the trio of main characters, is certainly forgiven for taking even lousy movies. A comic talent, he’s never quite broken the sidekick status and so it seems fair for him to take work when it comes.

However, just because we understand why pretty people do dumb things doesn’t mean we have to forgive them.

Dirk Pitt (McConaughey) and his long-time chum Al (Zahn) are traveling the high seas as part of a salvage and recovery operation. In addition to taking them to lots of sunny, tropical locales, the job allows Dirk to indulge his itch to search for a mysterious Civil War submarine which may be carrying Confederate treasure. After completing a job in west Africa, Dirk and Al begin suiting up for their extracurricular treasure hunt and along the way bump into World Health Organization doctor Eva Rojas (Cruz), who in addition to being very well made up for someone doing relief work in the middle of the desert is also very dogged about finding the source of a killer disease. Both her search and Dirk’s lead to Mali, so they share a lift — separating and then meeting up again after their mysterious hint at intertwining. To find the treasure and cure the sick, Dirk, Al and Eva work together, fighting African generals and French businessmen.

Like a college student writing a term paper the hour before it’s due, Sahara steals from everybody — James Bond, Indiana Jones, Three Kings and the recent National Treasure. The result is not so much a movie but an action-movie collage — a medley of familiar action movie characters, situations and visuals. And, perhaps because this term paper is worth half your semester grade, the movie eventually weaves together a patchwork that is more than two hours long. Add in extensive quotes from Alexis D’Tocqueville and a 13-point font and you have something resembling the paper that helped me squeak by with a B minus in college Poli-Sci.

Except that my paper never had “Sweet Home Alabama.” Oddly, one of this movie’s most defining features — other than what an obvious vacation it was for everybody involved — is an abundance of mid-to-late 1970s Southern rock. Treasure hunt or San Marcos, Texas barbeque? There are many occasions when between McConaughey’s twang and Zahn’s five-Bud suntan you can’t tell the difference. It occurred to me that this might mark a generational jump in Hollywood scoring. Once upon a time, men having way too much fun in combat and/or scavenging situations listened to the Beach Boys. Now, the mid-1960s have been replaced by the backyard burgers-and-dogs-feast feel of Grand Funk.

Yes, we are an American band.

- Amy Diaz

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