Sahara (2005)

Sahara is such a silly film. I don’t mean that to be a negative, as I quite enjoyed it, but anyone disliking silly, unrealistic action films will want to steer clear of this one. From the plot, situations, characters — everything here is preposterous. And it was fun. This is one of those films you don’t have to think about while watching it. In a rare turn of events, the characters actually do the thinking for you.

This is a rare occurrence in action films. Sahara‘s characters are actually quite smart (more intelligent than you’d assume ones played by Matthew McConaughey and Steve Zahn would be), and frequently use logic in order to try to solve the various conundrums they run into. The reason this is important is that if we have to stop to attempt a different solution, the audience will notice repetition and begin to question the story and the events within it. A film like Sahara relies on its pacing more than anything else. Having smart characters means they don’t have to take multiple attempts to fix whatever needs fixing.

To start out, out plot seems simple enough. A couple of treasure hunters, Dirk and Al (McConaughey and Zahn) have decided to borrow William H. Macy’s boat in order to search for a sunken ship that has been missing for over 150 years (and might possibly not exist at all). Their search leads them to Africa, where Dirk saves a robbing and potential murder of a WHO doctor named Eva (Penélope Cruz). She ends up joining up with the gang for a while as they ferry her to the location she has to go to. She’s investigating a “plague” that has sprung up in various locations.

Eventually, these two missions become intertwined and it’s up to Dirk, Al, and Eva to more or less save the world. There are two main villains at work here: Lennie James as some general dude who apparently more or less runs one of the African countries, and Lambert Wilson as a man who may or may not own a nuclear waste dumping site doubling as a solar plant, which may or may not be poisoning the water of all of Africa, and soon, the world. “May or many not.” Take a guess which one.

Despite the plot being quite silly (and it gets sillier the longer the film runs for), it actually stays fairly predictable. There weren’t any surprises or twists, nor were there any attempts to shock the audience. We’re here to see an adventure, and that’s just what we’re going to get! I’m actually kind of glad that characters didn’t want to switch sides mid-game or have some terrible secret to reveal. What we see is what we get, and for the most part, it’s pretty fun.

One of the main problems that these kinds of films have are unoriginal and uninspired action scenes. Sahara contains some originality. I was glad for this. Many of the points in this film are quite entertaining because we haven’t seen them dozens of times before. Sure, there are a few shootouts, but they’re handled well by director Breck Eisner. Other times, there are bigger and better set-pieces that will likely astound you, either simply because of what happened or because of the sheer gall it takes to put them in a film. Either way, they will likely impress.

What stops Sahara from becoming more than just your average, brainless action/adventure flick is that its characters aren’t deep, and they receive little-to-no characterization or development throughout. It works well enough because we are watching just a brainless action picture, but it would have been nice to have them tie-in some actual depth in between action scenes. I also would have liked to see Zahn’s character have a purpose, as he seemed to be there just to fill the obligatory sidekick role.

I did like all of the actors in their roles, even if they don’t get a lot of real character moments. McConaughey is basically just a slightly smarter version of the character he generally plays, Zahn is a much smarter version of the character he always plays, Cruz is a doctor with about as much intelligence as her general character, and Macy is relegated to a pointless background role. I mention intelligence often because it’s basically the only thing that differentiates them from your average cast. And it’s also about as deep as these characters get; we know they’re smart — that’s it.

The bad guys are also underdeveloped (and underutilized, just like Macy). They’re your “profit before anything else” type of villains. You’ve seen them before, and there’s nothing they’ll bring to the table that we haven’t seen before. They do give a few action sequences that are quite fun, though, even if their master scheme didn’t make sense to me. Does anyone really think blowing up tons of radioactive waste and then flying 1,000 meters about it will keep them safe?

Sahara works almost solely because of its pacing. Some creativity here and there helps, but if the film let us think about its absurd plot, we might not enjoy it. But it kept the pressure on, rarely letting up, and I found myself having quite the fun time. It doesn’t have great characters, villains, or anything you could put into a successful drama picture, but that’s okay because the action scenes are enjoyable enough to keep you entertained. Preposterous? Sure. But that just adds to the fun with this film.

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