Let’s say, hypothetically speaking, that you wanted to watch a film that was in the Raiders of the Lost Ark vein but that you weren’t quite up for something as intellectually rigorous as National Treasure or Tomb Raider.
Let’s go on to say that you wanted to see Matthew McConaughey fling his hair and his grin about with equal abandon; that you have a soft spot for Steve Zahn; and that you don’t strenuously object to watching Penelope Cruz running in tight, elastic tops while pretending to be a physician with no sense of self-preservation. If so — and if you were also dead set on seeing a story that involved missing Civil War gold, the threat of a West African plague, solar-powered explosions, and world environmental collapse — then you would have a hard time finding a film better than Sahara.
Although, if you tried, no one would blame you. Certainly not me.
But, seeing as how Sahara is streaming on Netflix, I watched it. And it was totally acceptable in a by-the-stupid-numbers way.
Things blow up. Pretty people smile fetchingly. Evil plans are confounded. Treasure is sought and won. In between, actors say and do things that more or less simulate, when taken in conjunction, storytelling. By which I mean, among the preposterous things that occur in Sahara, nothing stands out as more or less preposterous. It’s all generally entertaining enough if your goal is to watch something you haven’t seen before while drinking large quantities of beer.
Sahara made news on its release in 2005 for doing well at the box office, but not nearly well enough to recoup its vast budget. Instead of launching a series of James Bond-esque adventure films, it crept sheepishly onto video store shelves and into streaming libraries. As if to say, “Hey. Are you lonely? Do you like long walks on the beach and derring-do and a nice glass of merlot on rainswept evenings when the only one who could possibly save the world is Matthew McConaughey? If so, let’s Netflix and chill.”
It is the sort of film that has all the elements of success, save originality. It is directed with competence by Breck Eisner, but without any real flair. Its lead cast members perform with the nonchalance of people who had their parts written specifically for them. As in: “You. Steve Zahn. Do you think you could do that Steve Zahn thing that Steve Zahn does so winningly? Yes? Good. Do that. Do you know anyone who could play Delroy Lindo or Rainn Wilson? How convenient!”
In short, Sahara is a studio picture, much in the same way Suicide Squad at least ended up a studio picture. It is a film of parts, assembled to pattern, attempting little and succeeding at that quite admirably.
So if you’ve watched all the Jack Ryan films, and all the James Bond films, and spent too many evenings trying to unearth Nic Cage‘s worst performance, and remember with clarity how lousy the first few Mission Impossible films actually dared to be, then maybe Sahara will fill that looming two-hour hole in your evening.
No promises though.