- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 7, 2005

They just don’t make ‘em like “Sahara” anymore. The film, blissfully free of computer-generated wizardry, slips through our consciousness with breakneck speed. Don’t look back, because objects in the rearview mirror make even less sense once you start to think about them.

Matthew McConaughey, the former “it” actor, who’s slipping into genre roles with the greatest of ease, stars as an explorer caught between unearthing history and saving an impoverished West African village.

The actor’s Texas twang discourages comparisons between his Dirk Pitt and Indiana Jones — fortunately for Dirk. Instead, the actor falls back on aw-shucks mode, which proves good enough for this romp.

Off on another historical goose chase financed by his benevolent boss (William H. Macy), Dirk is out to find an ancient Civil War battleship supposedly lost with a belly full of coins.

He meets up with another fading A-lister, Penelope Cruz, who plays a doctor investigating a plague sweeping across West Africa. She runs afoul of a team of bandits and is rescued by Dirk, who happens by. (“Happening by” is a favorite plot device in this script, written by a committee of four.)

The pair, along with Dirk’s sidekick (Steve Zahn), end up in one adventure after another, simultaneously chasing history and keeping one step ahead of some lackluster evildoers.

Gaping holes in logic never slow down our heroes. They always appear where they’re supposed to, but the actors’ good-natured way with their none-too-serious material makes each far-fetched development easy to swallow.

Miss Cruz punches in with the requisite blend of beauty and feistiness without looking too out of place. A hundred actresses could do just as good a job, but this kind of role isn’t why they invented the Method.

Professional sidekick Mr. Zahn does the honors here, cracking wise with Dirk without grating on the nerves.

For all the obtuse plotting in “Sahara,” the film is not without its thrills. A nifty fistfight atop a solar tower reminds us that not every screen skirmish needs “Matrix”-style wire work. And director Breck Eisner wisely gooses the proceedings with stunning scenery that never overwhelms the cast.

Logic takes a holiday with “Sahara,” but if it’s logic you’re expecting from this sort of escapist throwback, maybe you could use a holiday yourself.

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WHAT: “Sahara”

RATING: PG-13 (Violent sequences)

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