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Sahara

Dir: Breck Eisner
[img_assist|nid=894|title=Quick, let's get out of here! The audience wants their money back.|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=450|height=293]
What the hell is a “Breck” anyway? It’s the first time I’ve ever heard of a person, director or otherwise with a name like Breck. Whoever and whatever he is, even with a name like that, he wouldn’t be directing films if it wasn’t for his father, Michael Eisner. Michael Eisner is the kind of person who at his peak probably dined with Rupert “Ubermensch” Murdoch, got him to pick up the bill and then split a hooker or two together over snifters of brandy made from the tears of virgins. As the son of the former CEO of Disney I’m sure that Breck Eisner had a lot of hurdles to traverse and obstacles to mount and then surmount in order to follow his dream of becoming a Hollywood director. It gives hope to us all.

However he managed to get there, we should only really judge him on his merits, on the works that he produces. I mean, come on, it’s only fair. I can’t be judged based on what my father Idi Amin, or my mother Lindy Chamberlain did in their lifetimes, surely? It’s just wrong to judge me based on anything else than what I’ve achieved in this life. And I am sure as hell going to extend that same courtesy to my man Breck here.

Breck has masterfully achieved the production of a mediocre film, and if that was his objective then we can applaud him for reaching the goals that he set himself. The question as to whether it’s okay or if it’s a worthless shitfest I’ll leave to the lovely masochistic individuals that endure my reviews. All I can and should really do is just talk about the film in generalities with a few specifics and let You decide.

Matthew McConaughey plays Indiana, I mean, Allan Quatermain, I mean, Dirk Pitt. Dirk Pitt is an adventurer / explorer / ex Navy Seal / generic all-American hero. At one point as he’s rising from the depths of the ocean trying to salvage the sarcophagus of some king, this cheesy rock ballad type song is blaring from a conveniently placed radio with a chorus that repeats, I kid you not, “He’s An American MAN!”, in case we thought he was one of the Bushmen of the Kalahari or a shrunken Yiddish yenta. His best friend, Al Giordano (Steve Zahn) is clearly in love with Dirk Pitt. Who could resist someone with a name like Dirk Pitt anyway? It just screams virile manliness and potency. At one point whilst talking to a pesky woman (Petula Clark, no, I mean, Penelope Cruz) who’s along for the ride and makes the least convincing doctor since Denise Richards played Doctor Christmas Jones in one of the later Bond atrocities, Al and Dirk mention that they’ve been together their entire lives ever since kindergarten.

Through kindergarten, primary school, high school, college, the Navy and then they’ve been working together ever since. No wonder Cruz’s character is there to forbid us from thinking that these two men are probably gay as a bag full of butterflies.

Dr Eva Roja strides across the sands of north east Africa worried that many people are going to die because of a plague. She goes up to people and says “World Health Organisation” and people start immediately talking to her in English with an appreciation of what she’s saying and for what she’s doing. If some person ran up to me and yelled “World Health Organisation” as if they thought they were the FBI, expecting me to give them free access to my home, hearth and body cavities, I’d be doing my best impression of a Glaswegian local and screaming at the top of my lungs “GET TAE FUCK!” like I was one of the less sane characters from an Irvine Welsh novel.

But this is a film based on a Clive Cussler novel, so I guess it operates in a universe with different rules than the one I reside in. I haven’t read any Clive Cussler novels, and don’t really intend to in the same way that I never intend to read any book written by Dan Brown or with “Da Vinci” or “Potter” in the title. His kinds of books are referred to either as “airport novels” or “doorstops” for their excessive size, their superficial yet racy storytelling and their pure entertainment value rather than being hoity-toity serious reads. I don’t fly in a lot of planes (especially since the court case), so I guess I haven’t had much reason to pick up one of his monstrosities. If this film is any indication of the quality of his writing, then his Nobel Prize for Literature must have gotten lost in the mail.

So the plot doesn’t make much sense. So it’s very unlikely, implausible and ridiculous. So what? Are we getting to the stage where we can’t accept much of what big budget storytelling tries to entertain us with? Of course it’s a mediocre attempt at modern-day Raiders of the Lost Ark storytelling, but if Raiders hadn’t come out when it did, and was released now, with everything the same except for the quality of the special effects, would we be able to tolerate its existence to any greater extent?

I love Raiders of the Lost Ark, truly. It’s not a deeply philosophical or philosophically deep action flick, nor is it in any way believable. Whenever it turns up on cable and I’m flicking through the channels the remote seems to stop working as I get stuck on the channel playing any part of it. But why is it that we could suspend disbelief for that flick, and not for the flicks that have come after that are the pretenders to the throne? Indiana Jones always had an implausible way out of every situation, could take hundreds of punches that sounded like a sledgehammer slamming into a side of beef and still kept fighting, defied death in ways that defied logic and physics as well, and had a cheesy one-liner ready for every situation. And if anyone thinks the ending of Raiders makes any kind of sense then I’d like them to get in contact with me about some gold bullion I need to get out of my bank in Nigeria. You’re my only hope.

Whatever the reason is, if you can switch off those frontal lobes of your brain and just go along with the ride you might enjoy the film. It has that big budget feel of adventure that you rarely get in flicks that aren’t pretend sci-fi action flicks like Minority Report and I, Robot. I enjoyed seeing parts of Africa like Mali and Nigeria that rarely get filmed, and I loved looking at desert scenes. Action scenes involving speed boats, camels and vintage cars don’t interest me as much, but then I’ve been told that I’m notoriously hard to please.

The film begins with a night time battle between Union and Confederate soldiers in the dying stages of the Civil War. Men aboard a kind of metal plate covered, steam powered ship called an ironclad are trying to get away from some Yankee soldiers and their artillery. It’s an interesting way to start the story, and it’s supposed to serve as the point or goal of the plot, but it’s really a macguffin of the highest order, being absent from the script for the majority of the story and reappearing only when so much time has passed that you’ve forgotten there even was a ship in the first place. But don’t worry, the continual exposition will remind you.

Dirk Pitt, being a guy who lives for finding old shipwrecks, has been pursuing the legend of the Confederate ironclad for years, and coincidence and good fortune bring him to somewhere close enough to pick up the trail of the CSS Texas as it is called. He saves Dr Eva from nasty dark skinned men. Their paths converge and then separate, and then probably converge and separate again a few more times. There are some villains of course in the form of the Merovingian (Lambert Wilson) who outside of the Matrix plays what I expect for Americans is just another loathsome Frenchman, and a Malian warlord who hates Dirk and his people presumably because they’re white and have bright teeth.

The film starts off seeming like it’s reasonably grounded in a believable reality, and progressively gets more insane and inane. I’m not going to destroy the plot for prospective viewers by spoiling the whole thing, but at the point where two of our heroes have been death-marching for a day or two in the Saharan Desert and come across Amelia Earhart’s plane in the desert, convert it using a few trusty tools into some kind of windsurfer on wheels, and windsurf their way to safety I was sorely tempted to walk out of the cinema and punch the ticket seller in her ovaries. Oh, very much so.

But I stayed, in case it got better. More fool me.

Clive Cussler is apparently suing the filmmakers for script changes that he didn’t approve of. When I found out that the bit I just described actually came from his feeble imagination and was present in the book I realised that he’s probably ashamed of himself. What he should really do is sue himself for being such a terrible writer.

Apart from one contemporary reference, where a character offers to sell Dirk Diggler some stuff looted from the Iraqi national museum, you could almost be forgiven for thinking that this flick is set in the 70s. From the sheer abundance of 70s middle of the road FM radio hits you’d be even more convinced. Wow, that Lynyrd Skynyrd track “Magic Carpet Ride” just doesn’t get played enough times on Hollywood movie soundtracks.

Sure, there’s no character development or even characterisation, no sensible motivation to what they do or anything approximating logic to where the plot casts them. Sure, the dialogue veers from awful to cheesy and back again. We tolerated all of that in Raiders, but we can’t seem to get over it here. It doesn’t mean that enjoying something as purely junkworthy as this is impossible. And I don’t mean enjoyed only by tards and cretins, either. Even intelligent drunk people might find it fun. I know that for fleeting moments that I did too.

But goddamn is it stupid. Here’s hoping they make a franchise out of this nincompoop’s books in order to spread the pain around.

4 times you have to wonder how bad a film must be when Penelope Cruz is probably the best thing in it out of 10

"Hey, Al. Do remember that time when we were in that desert?"
-"And you made me ride that camel that bit me on my butt?" – this is actual dialogue from the masterful, the awe-inspiring Sahara.

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