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Sahara (12A)



Review by: Jack Foley | Rating: Two

DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: None stated

MANY have tried but few have come close to recapturing the genuine sense of fun that surrounded the Indiana Jones action-adventure formula.

Yet Sahara, starring Matthew McConaughey as master explorer, Dirk Pitt, comes very close, deftly blending its old-school thrills with a touch of James Bond as well.

It's largely about boys and their toys but director, Breck Eisner's film, which is based on the novel by Clive Cussler (of Raise The Titanic fame), is so shamelessly enjoyable that viewers ought to forget they've been here countless times before.

The film centres around the search for a long-lost Civil War battleship, dubbed the 'Ship of Death', that has become something of a Holy Grail to Pitt and his long-time collaborator, Al Giordino (Steve Zahn).

Convinced that the ship found its way to Africa, Pitt uses his position within NUMA (the National Underwater and Marine Agency) to further his quest to locate it.

Yet his latest expedition brings him into contact with Dr Eva Rojas (Penelope Cruz), a World Health Organisation (WHO) doctor, who thinks she has uncovered a deadly epidemic that may be sweeping its way across Africa.

Hitching a ride with Pitt and Giordino, it's not long before all three find themselves courting the attention of a dangerous African warlord (Lennie James) and his money-hungry business partner, Massadre (Lambert Wilson), whose nuclear waste disposal plant may be the source of the pollution.

The ensuing high adventure is an energetic romp packed with plenty of explosions and near-death experiences that also works because of the chemistry of its stars.

It may be wildly over the top at times but it seldom takes itself too seriously and displays a keen eye for exotic locations and exciting set pieces.

Of the central trio, McConaughey, especially, uses his laidback Texan charm to endearing effect, creating a rugged yet believable action-hero to rival the best in the genre.

His relationship with Zahn's wise-cracking side-kick is particularly well played, yet he is equally adept at turning on the charm for the ladies.

While Cruz acquits herself well, proving far more than a mere damsel-in-distress, even though her story arc is the film's weakest point (appearing a little out of keeping with the generally light-hearted tone).

Support wise, the ever-reliable William H Macy elevates the performance-level still higher, as McConaughey's former commander-turned-ally, while the likes of Lambert Wilson and Delroy Lindo (as a CIA operative) lend added gravitas to even the smallest roles.

Director, Eisner, deserves credit, too, for delivering a film that seems fresh and exciting, rather than stale and formulaic.

Having been championed by Steven Spielberg, he seizes the opportunity to deliver an action movie that not only looks terrific but keeps audiences thrilled too.

A slick speedboat chase early on sets the standard, while several of the fight sequences are well-orchestrated and humorous.

Eisner even throws in plenty of nods to other movies, including a brilliant Flight of the Phoenix-style plane sequence and several tongue-in-cheek references to both the Indiana Jones and James Bond franchises.

The result is a genuinely pleasant surprise - a film which trades on the familiar, but which certainly has no problem in keeping up with a certain Mr Jones.

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