Based on a Clive Cussler novel [I have not read this particular volume, but I have read his first in the Dirk Pitt series, The Mediterranean Caper; it was quite good, I’d readily read more…and we have a whole collection in the house]. It’s an action-adventure film that I categorize as a cross between Indiana Jones and James Bond. Familiar faces abound; Matthew McConaughey stars as Dirk Pitt. William H. Macy (a pilot in Air Force One) is Admiral Sandecker, Penélope Cruz is Eva Rojas, Steve Zahn is Al Giordino, and Lambert Wilson (he’s appeared in The Matrix franchise, and was Charles, the King of France in The Hollow Crown’s Henry V) is Yves Massarde.
The backstory of the movie is the last ironclad ship of the Civil War, the Texas runs the Union blockade, carrying gold coins from the Confederacy. Fast forward a bit and we’re introduced to NUMA through newspaper clips, photos, and memorabilia. Our main character, who hasn’t actually appeared on screen yet, was part of the Navy SEALS, then became a salvager through NUMA. And another plot point is introduced, W.H.O. doctors are in Nigeria, tracking a disease that is spreading out of Mali. Eva really wants to find the source of the disease, but is blocked by red tape. She is attacked while tracking down a patient and rescued by a diver in the water; Dirk. She wakes up aboard a ship and is briefly introduced to Al Giordino, Admiral Sandecker, and Rudi before Dirk makes another appearance, bringing up salvage from the ocean. NUMA is presenting the sarcophagus at the museum that evening, which means Eva can pitch her plea to businessman Yves Massarde. She gets her trip to Mali.
What we then find out is that Yves is actually in partnership with the local dictator who is making it dangerous to travel to Mali. Dirk is also pursuing a lead on the Texas; he has a theory and a few supporting documents that the ironclad ship got caught up in a major storm and ended up in the Niger river. He just has to find concrete evidence. So he wheedles the use of Sandecker’s boat and agrees to take Eva up river. They part, though agree to hook up again in Monte Ray. Dirk finds evidence of the storm. Eva and her partner are attacked again, though Eva hides in the well she is gathering evidence from. Her partner is killed and by untying the rope and hiding her glow stick, she is not discovered.
Dirk, Al, and Rudi run into local trouble on the water; bad guys are searching for the doctors. They evade the bad guys, with Sandecker on the phone, asking about his boat. Well, they “pull a Panama” [one of my favorite parts of the whole film] and the boat gets blown up. Al and Dirk will go after Eva, Rudi is to report to Sandecker. They’ve got some red algae that needs tested. Al and Dirk make it in time to help rescue Eva, though she does quite fine climbing out of the well and shooting a bad guy. They’re waylaid from getting out of the country by the local rebel group. Eva finally figures out that the “plague” is a toxin. Something is poisoning the water system, but far apart from each other.
Al finds the puzzle piece playing with the kids; when he has to retrieve a ball, there is a drawing of Dirk’s ironclad ship. Years ago, what was desert was water, letting the ship ride upriver. Then it dries out, burying the ship. Which is how the toxin is spreading, through the underground river. They find the Texas, they find the river, and they’ll find the source of the toxin.
Meanwhile, Sandecker is trying to wrangle up help to get “his boys” out of Mali, including going to an old CIA contact. And Rudi runs his chemistry, discovering the toxin as well. Which, if it hits the ocean, the whole world is in trouble. But the U.S. Embassy guy doesn’t do anything, so it’s up to NUMA.
Al, Dirk, and Eva discover Yves solar power plant. It has the side effect of storing some toxic barrels underground, which leaches into the water supply. Yves finds them meddling and takes Eva hostage and dumps Dirk and Al in the desert. The two buddies rescue themselves and fix up an airplane wreck into a ride (to the awesome tune of Magic Carpet Ride by Steppenwolf. Sweet Home Alabama played earlier). Dirk calls Sandecker and works out a plan. He and Al head back to the power plant to rescue Eva, but she has told Yves what his plant is causing. So he decides to cut his losses. (Here comes the Bond element) he’ll plant a bomb to blow up the plant, while he gets away in his helicopter. Al goes after the bomb, Dirk goes after Eva. He faces off with a bad guy on the top of the solar tower, and Eva jumps out of the helicopter. Plant does not explode, but Yves still high-tails it out of there.
Now our heroes have to deal with the local warlord, Kazeem. They hide in the ruins they find and discover the Texas while blowing up a sand dune. They could hide out in the tough old ship, except Kazeem has armor-piercing bullets. So they shoot an old cannon ball at him, blowing up his helicopter. The rebels swoop in to intimidate the rest of Kazeem’s army. Oh, and the Texas is full of Confederacy gold. Which Sandecker reports to the Embassy guy, there is no gold belonging to the United States aboard the ship. But he will consider to work for the U.S. government on a project-by-project basis in exchange for a new boat. And of course, Dirk gets the girl. And the fancy car.
To me, Sahara is a fun action movie that shows that history can be very interesting at times. Who would have thought that a Confederate iron clad ship could end up in Africa? History always ties to the present and there are several novel series out there that hit on that. And it is really cool that an old cannon can blow up a helicopter! And kind of want to know what actually happened in Panama, and why did it involve blowing up a boat?
Up Next: More history in National Treasure