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Thursday, April 7, 2005 08:57 am

movie review


I have no doubt that Sahara, the second of Clive Cussler’s Dirk Pitt adventures to hit the screen (the first being the colossal 1980 bomb Raise the Titanic), will be picked apart by film-going curmudgeons who demand logic and a certain degree of plausibility in their action films. Those folks should just stay home and let fans of well-executed escapist entertainment sit back and enjoy themselves: This debut feature from director Breck Eisner has one goal and one goal only — to entertain at all costs.

As members of NUMA, the National Underwater Marine Agency, Pitt (Matthew McConaughey) and his sidekick, Al Giordino (Steve Zahn), travel the world under the guidance of private financier Adm. James Sandecker (William Macy) to find missing historical artifacts and restore them to the countries from which they originated. Having just located a missing tomb off the coast of Africa, Pitt begins to harangue Sandecker about one of his longtime pet projects. He firmly believes that the Texas, the last of the Confederate ironclad warships, escaped to Africa in the waning days of the Civil War. Though he has his doubts, Sandecker allows Pitt, Giordino, and NUMA chemist Rudi (Rainn Wilson) to take his private yacht to investigate.

Meanwhile, Dr. Eva Rojas (Penélope Cruz) of the World Health Organization has stumbled across what she believes to be cases of the plague. To track down the source, she must go into a part of West Africa that is being torn apart by civil war and is ruled by Gen. Kazim (Lennie James). The despot doesn’t really care that his people are going to be wiped out by this quickly spreading disease; he’s more interested in ensuring that a private industrialist (Lambert Wilson) be allowed to operate his sinister solar-energy plant in the middle of the Sahara.

The twists and turns of the story prove so audacious and inspired that you find yourself not so much questioning their plausibility as much as smiling at the inspiration behind them. Eisner doesn’t really allow us to pick the plot apart with the well-choreographed action sequences he’s constructed. Although the editing is fast and sometimes confusing, the scrapes Pitt and Giordano wind up in are exciting, imaginative, and fun.

The film’s success owes much to the three leads. Cruz proves that she can keep up with the boys, and the chemistry between McConaughey, who is every bit the hero here, and Zahn, who is as quick with a quip as he is with a gun, is something film directors dream of. Sahara may be nothing but a popcorn movie, but it’s a good one, so much so that I hope to run into Pitt and his crew again. They’re good company, and that’s something I haven’t been able to say often lately when going to the movies.

Also in theaters this week. . .

Fever Pitch [PG-13] Lindsay (Drew Barrymore) is stuck in the middle of her relationship with Ben (Jimmy Fallon) and his inexplicable passion for the Boston Red Sox. ShowPlace West, ShowPlace East

Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter, Spring [R] Set on and around a tree-lined lake with a tiny floating Buddhist monastery, each season represents a stage in a man’s life. Korean with subtitles. Brookens Auditorium (UIS)

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