The action genre has gone the way of the ‘intelligent’, self-deprecating teen-horror movies, á la Scream, and is selling itself as facetiously as possible. Sahara may well mark the beginning-of-the-end for this tendency (if promos for Sin City are anything to go by), but it certainly gives an able attempt at a lasting goodbye.
Delivering on its promise of fast-paced, adrenalin-pumping action, with a storyline teetering on the edge of absurd, Sahara pleases in the baser sense. Comparisons with Indiana Jones are unavoidable, and the movie will most likely benefit from such allusions, but Sahara seems to be carving its own niche as a franchise. Matthew McConaughey (who appears to be just playing himself these days) is the intelligent, rugged, manly naval historian, with the obligatory diamond-in-the-rough sensitive soul, abandoning the search for a ‘treasure’ he has followed his entire life in order to save the earth from an environmental disaster. However, tongue firmly in cheek, McConaughey turns the role on its head at every opportunity – giving life to a somewhat hackneyed character.
Steve Zahn partners with McConaughey in every way - which is really the saving grace of this movie. Most action movie ‘partnerships’ require that one member be dead wood or dumb sidekick…Zahn is McConaughey’s equal and, in some cases, superior. The story gives us two colleagues of like intelligence and bravery, who have a strong friendship enhanced by a desire for adventure. The combination of Zahn’s quirky wit and McConaughey’s own particular brand of southern charm is a charismatic one, and much of the film is carried on their relationship. Penelope Cruz isn’t called upon to do much but, when asked, she displays her usual panache and style (all wide-eyed emotion and whispered words). The support crew of stereotypes amply flesh out their own particular character – father figure William H. Macy being, of course, a standout wasted in a tiny part.
Unfortunately many parts of the movie bring it down as a whole – most particularly the comment from the local dictator that “Nobody cares about Africa”, followed by the usual show of pretend poverty and tribal warfare. This line is obviously meant to be ironic – i.e., implying that nobody cares in order to show us that ‘somebody’ (America) does. As is usual with such films, the US is the centre of the world…toxic waste that is killing local Africans is leaking into the Niger River towards the Atlantic and “will hit New York in six months”. However, taken at surface value without believing too much of the bravado – as most will manage – the movie is standard fare.
Script flairs are virtually nonexistent, but reality issues aside, it actually makes for quite an enjoyable matinee performance. Strong acting, fast action and the engagingly silly storyline ensure a paint-by-numbers action flick in the style of The Mummy. Indiana Jones it isn’t – but with Harrison Ford threatening to don the cap and whip once more, it doesn’t really need to be.
View the review on Film Ireland Website (blowing......trumpet.....etc.) at http://filmireland.net/reviews/sahara.htm