Starring: Matthew McConaughey, Steve Zahn, Penelope Cruz, Lambert Wilson, William H. Macy
Director: Breck Eisner
For those looking to be won over by a new action star in the same vein as such MIA Hollywood icons as James Bond and Indiana Jones, keep looking (and no, XXX doesn’t count), but Dirk Pitt (Matthew McConaughey) is a nice substitute for the time being. In the first of a collection of Clive Cussler stories that seems hellbent on creating a successful film franchise of the character, “Sahara” is a mediocre action flick that could just as well serve as your guilty pleasure of the year. Directed by Breck Eisner (yes, the son of Disney CEO Michael Eisner), “Sahara” features a hilarious collaboration among its cast of B-list actors as they fight their way through a barrage of fun action sequences and dangerous situations.
Dirk Pitt is a modern-day, treasure-hunting Jones who shares the same sex appeal of a certain MI-5 secret agent. With the experience of serving in the Navy under his belt, Pitt joins the National Underwater and Marine Agency (NUMA) with childhood pal Al Giordino (comic relief Steve Zahn) as they search for artifacts and other historically-important trinkets under the dime of Admiral James Sandecker (William H. Macy). Dirk has been long searching for an ironclad Confederate ghost ship that was lost at sea towards the end of the Civil War, and the recovery of a Confederate gold coin off the coast of Mali delivers his first clue in years.
On his way to Africa, Dirk saves the life of a World Health Organization doctor (Penelope Cruz) after she is attacked by a group of mysterious soldiers on the beach. The doctor is investigating a possible plague that is swatting the African population, and the main source of the disease is originating from none other than Mali. How incredibly convenient for the pair of buddies to team up with the beautiful girl, but the evil General Kazim (Lennie James) isn’t going to let the trio of troublemakers ruin his plans for world domination without sending a few thousand troops to thwart their efforts.
“Sahara” manages to salvage enough of the original source material to make fans happy. And they better be happy, especially after Cussler sued the production studio over his own displeasure of the film’s first draft. Cussler won the suit and made sure the film was made exactly how he wanted, but I’m still not convinced that the author wasn’t heavily persuaded into dropping some of his boring, scientific lingo in place of more explosions and close-ups of McConaughey’s sun-tanned face.
Don’t let the film’s troubled past cause any doubts though. McConaughey is charming as the lead hero, Zahn continues to make a great living as the goofy sidekick, and even a small appearance by Rainn Wilson produces enough laughs to make “Sahara” an amiable trip to the movies. This one is no “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” but it’s definitely worth checking out before the onslaught of action-packed summer films dominate the box-office.
The widescreen release of "Sahara" is an excellent single-disc offering with two audio commentary tracks, three featurettes and a handful of deleted scenes. Both commentaries feature director Breck Eisner, with the second track also including star Matthew McConaughey. The first commentary has Eisner simply giving away all of his movie secrets, and while he himself isn't the most exciting man on the planet, I certainly gained a little more respect for his knowledge of cinematic production. The second track is much more lighthearted, with the two commentators joking around most of the time, and isn't nearly as fulfilling as the prior.
By far the best element of the bonus material are three featurettes that focus on pre-production and production, as well a video montage of the cast and crew from Day One to Wrap. The first two documentaries deliver some of the best behind-the-scenes coverage I've ever seen on a DVD - even though I wasn't originally interested - and highly recommend both to buyers and renters of this disc. Also included as part of the special features are four deleted scenes that deserved to be cut, along with optional director commentary with Eisner to help explain why. This wasn't exactly the strongest movie of the year, but it had its good moments, and the excellent material offered on this disc is well worth the time.