Bomb Rating: 

It wasn't exactly a surprise to me that the plot for "Sahara" turned out to be more ridiculous than the rules for dismissing a tenured professor at a major university. After all, the thing is an adaptation of a Clive Cussler novel. Cussler is to literature as Tom Arnold is to comedy. People who read him don't merely celebrate the fact that they can follow his stories, they simply celebrate the fact that they can read at all.

Anyone even remotely familiar with Cussler knows that Dirk Pitt (Matthew McConaughey) is his hero. Dirk Pitt is an adventurer. Logic suggests that if you have a hero like Pitt, the film should focus on the hero at all times. It should follow his every move as he searches for whatever he's searching for. Anybody remember any long stretches in "Raiders of the Lost Ark" in which Spielberg spent ten or so minutes to fill everyone in on what Sallah was up to?

Breck Eisner, who has the first name of a shampoo that used to make my scalp itch, directs this film like a coach trying to make sure all his kids play in a pee wee soccer game. The movie tries vainly to get us interested in an iron battleship from the Civil War that Pitt thinks ended up in Africa. Unfortunately, his search (and the movie) takes on water with Dr. Eva Rojas (Penelope Cruz) and Dr. Hopper (Glynn Turman), who are looking for the source of a mysterious plague. Naturally, the journeys of Rojas and Pitt get intertwined because Pitt needs a romantic interest and because nobody gives a crap about an iron ship that may or may not have sailed across the ocean.

The iron ship is a terrible red herring and I think that the filmmakers simply realized that the whole idea was about as compelling as two hours of watching Pitt dig for sand crabs. The villains turn out to be Massarde (Lambert Wilson) and an African general (Lennie James), who have some kind of solar collection facility in the middle of the desert that's really a front for a toxic waste dump. We also get a fair amount of Pitt's boss, Admiral James Sandecker (William H. Macy), who makes funny faces whenever Pitt doesn't do what he's told.

Using a giant, ridiculously conspicuous solar collection facility to cover up a toxic waste dump makes about as much sense as having Yao Ming host an Oompa Loompa reunion. "Sahara" is certainly a poor cousin of "Raiders." In fact, this cinematic Dirk Pitt couldn't even carry Indy's jock strap.

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