Straight from the pages of Clive Cussler’s best-selling adventure novels comes Dirk Pitt, a swashbuckling treasure hunter who’s making the leap to the big screen for the second time in his 30 years of literary fame. (His first outing was in 1980's Raise the Titanic.) Dirk is accompanied here, as he is on the page, by smart-mouthed sidekick Al Giordino. As members of the National Underwater and Marine Agency, the duo travel the globe recovering sunken artifacts.
This time their adventures begin off the coast of Nigeria, where Dirk, Al and NUMA Admiral Sandecker have just discovered another submerged relic. But when Dirk is shown a gold coin linked to a mysterious U.S. Civil War battleship that’s believed to have sunk in the Niger River, of all places, he and Al split from the team and embark on their own mission. Legend has it that the vessel holds a cargo worth millions, but locals refer to it as the "Ship of Death” for the curse it supposedly brought to the area. And with a new plague spreading across the country of Mali it seems the curse is back in full force.
As Dirk and Al search for the ship, they meet up with Eva Rojas, a World Health Organization doctor trying to find the epidemic’s source. And it's a good thing they do, because when she discovers that the plague is tied to an evil deal a Mali warlord has made with an unscrupulous Western businessman, things get more than just a little dangerous.
All three heroes risk their lives on numerous occasions to save each other. Dirk and Al race to Eva's aid, giving up their quest for treasure when they discover that she may be in trouble. When a close friend dies, Dirk comforts Eva and assures her that they’ll survive. The trio offer to help the leader of a Mali rebel group fight against General Kazim, the bloodthirsty, power-hungry warlord who currently rules the war-torn country. He returns the favor by putting his own neck on the line to help the foreigners. Back at the ranch, so to speak, Sandecker won't take no as an answer as he seeks the help of the CIA to rescue Dirk and Al.
It is said that the 19th century battleship “bore 300 souls to heaven,” and it is referred to as a “damnation from Allah.” Local are shown bowing and praying (to Allah, evidently) after burying several plague victims. A story retold includes a man swearing on a stack of Bibles.
Despite being in the middle of a desert, Eva wears low-cut tank tops for much of the movie. As the story wraps, she’s shown on the beach in a bikini. Pinned up onboard the NUMA ship are pictures of men’s heads attached to the bodies of bikini-clad women. Dirk and Eva kiss.
As much a mini war movie as it is an action flick, Sahara features lots of fistfights, shootouts, massive explosions and near-death experiences. Automatic weapons are fired in virtually every other scene, with Dirk and Al often serving as targets for a Mali militia. On one occasion, General Kazim shoots a man at point-blank range. Though we don't see the impact, it’s nevertheless intense, as are the sounds of soldiers killing a group of locals. Several other scenes show men repeatedly shot from up close. Blood and gore is not shown during those killings; there is blood, however, when Dirk plunges a harpoon through an attacker’s hand.
Dirk gets in numerous fistfights with assailants, one of which ends with a man falling to his death. He also whacks a man in the face with a bucket. Several times Al hits Mali soldiers over the head with the barrel of his gun. Eva sometimes gets in on the action, often repaying assailants for their rough treatment with kicks to the groin. In one sequence a man holds a gun to Eva's head. A friend of the adventurers fires a flare gun into a moving jeep full of soldiers (which drives over a cliff). Several vehicles either explode or are set ablaze. A ship is bombarded with machine gun fire and rocket-propelled grenades. A helicopter and boat both blow up in dramatic fashion.
Crude or Profane Language
Five misuses of God’s name and one of Christ’s. Better than a dozen other mild profanities and crudities are spoken, including “h---,” “p---” and “d--n.” Several foul phrases are left unfinished.
Drug and Alcohol Content
Dirk and Al like to drink. A lot. Their ongoing banter during tense situations includes betting on bottles and cases of tequila. Dirk and Eva down a few glasses of liquor during dinner. Budweiser bottles make an appearance on a boat, and Dirk shows up with a bottle of beer in hand early in the morning. Several people drink alcohol at a NUMA reception. Admiral Sandecker often appears smoking a cigar.
Other Negative Elements
Dirk, Al, Eva and Sandecker all seem to be in on a plan to steal a fortune's worth of gold coins from the U.S. government by never revealing that they exist. General Kazim is willing to sacrifice his countrymen’s lives to assure his power. It’s insinuated that a CIA agent assassinates Kazim’s business partner. The gory results of the plague are shown up-close when Eva examines victims’ bodies and checks their ghoulish-looking eyes. While working on a ship, Al bends over and reveals the top of his backside.
Improbable. That’s a word that isn't likely to stray far from moviegoers' minds as they watch old-school explorer Dirk Pitt and his wisecracking buddy escape close call after close call after close call after close call. Whether it’s dodging bullets, defusing a bomb or surviving a deadly fall, these macho men excel at making ridiculous feats look easy and, well, ridiculous.
Not that that’s anything new. James Bond and Indiana Jones do exactly the same thing. (And to Clive Cussler’s credit, Dirk was created years before Indy came around.) To get a fix on Dirk, think of him as being somewhere in between Bond and Jones. He’s a little bit earthy, a little bit suave and 100 percent testosterone. And, of course, he gets the girl in the end. Though not in the same way Mr. Bond typically does.
“I don't have any sex in my books,” Cussler has said. “And no four-letter words, because when I started writing my kids were quite young. I thought, ‘Someday they're going to read these books.’ ... I didn't feel it was necessary. The sex slows the action down. They never learned that in the movies.”
They have now, at least for Sahara, which maintains a rapid pace interrupted with nary a steamy scene. It does, however, contain some kid-unfriendly language, and its over-stimulating pacing includes tons of explosions, gunfire and hand-to-hand combat, along with more than a couple of killings. That creates its own drag.
Interestingly, on-screen and on-the-page differences reportedly led Cussler to disavow the project and sue Paramount for what he claims was a breach of contract over rights to approve the final script. Maybe his final touches would’ve smoothed things out a bit. Or maybe they would’ve at least patched up the enormous holes in the story.
Other Belief Systems
Readability Age Range
Matthew McConaughey as Dirk Pitt; Steve Zahn as Al Giordino; Penélope Cruz as Eva Rojas; William H. Macy as Admiral James Sandecker; Delroy Lindo as CIA Agent Carl; Lambert Wilson as Massarde