Remember back in high school, when the really cool stoner kids would give book reports to the class, and everyone – including the teacher – knew they actually hadn’t read the books and it seemed like they were making it up on the spot? Every so often, there would be one kid that could do it right and gave us a presentation that was so funny that we stopped caring about the book and just let ourselves be entertained. Breck Eisner’s “Sahara” is the cinematic equivalent of that really cool stoner kid and the book report.

“Sahara” is, in fact, based on a book by Clive Cussler, which takes 700 pages to explain how two treasure hunters, while searching for a Confederate battleship from the Civil War, are caught up in an African war and one doctor’s investigation of a plague, which, if it spreads, “will destroy all ocean life.” It seems that everyone but Cussler knows that the logistics and the number of coincidences required for these events to happen are so ludicrous that they are virtually nonexistent, and to argue otherwise would be stupid. Basically, “Sahara” has a plot, but it doesn’t care as long as the story justifies explosions, buddy-picture shenanigans and really cool landscapes for the actors to play in.

The treasure hunters are Dirk Pitt and Al Giordino, Mathew McConaughey and Steve Zahn respectively. They are lifelong friends – not what you think, unfortunately – who spend their time raising ancient artifacts from the ocean floor for their boss, Admiral Sandecker. Through the magic of our suspension of disbelief, Dirk and Al meet Dr. Eva Rojas, played by Penelope Cruz, and the three gallivant around the Sahara in search of the cause of a fatal disease, a “long-lost” battleship in the sand and attract the attention of a warlord and a greedy Frenchman who want them dead. But it’s not like any of it actually matters.

What I liked most about “Sahara” is its new take on old clichs. The movie is certainly clichd, but it’s almost refreshing to see a hero who’s cool, but not suave and overly macho. Dirk Pitt performs his tasks with the nonchalance of a regular at Starbucks, whether he’s windsurfing on an abandoned plane or about to be blown to bits by a helicopter. His life may be in danger, but he might as well be ordering a cappuccino.

Also, it’s always good to see the sidekick, Al, a type normally relegated to useless comic relief, be as competent as the hero, but still aware of his role.

There’s one great line where the two must disarm a bomb while Eva is in danger. Al tells Dirk, “You save the girl, I’ll find the bomb.” In fact, most characters get treated with some degree of respect, even the foreign ones, and I have to appreciate a film that takes clichs and types and tries something different.

Basically, “Sahara” is a little long and completely absurd, but it’s entertaining, like that stoner kid’s book report. And we all secretly know that he was right. High school was a joke and book reports were a sham, and it made us all a little more stupid when we did them. In fact, reading is dumb, too. Why not see a movie and tell me about it later?

Battenhausen can be reached at dbattenhausen@campustimes.org.



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