As in Botticelli's painting of Venus, McConaughey is first glimpsed rising near-naked from the sea, the sun glinting off the taut bronze muscles of his abdomen and the spray streaming from his hair. All that's missing is the giant clamshell. His showy entry is indicative of the wackiness, much of it unintentional, of this patchwork attempt at creating a brawny saga filled with romance, derring-do and intrigue.
In Sahara, McConaughey makes like Indiana Jones-lite as adventurer Dirk Pitt, a Navy SEAL turned marine salvage expert. He and faithful buddy Al Giordino (Zahn) are in Nigeria to recover sunken treasures. Pitt emerges from the sea, though, just in the nick of time to rescue a United Nations doctor in distress (Cruz). She is about to be murdered by sinister assassins hoping to prevent her from investigating a possible plague. The movie piles on several additional subplots, all serving as excuses to keep throwing Pitt and the good doctor together and jack up the danger quotient. Sahara even borrows a page from National Treasure, having Pitt obsessively searching for an ironclad Civil War-era boat that he theorizes wound up in Africa.
It's all pretty nonsensical, which would be fine and dandy if the proceedings were carried off with great panache. But, in the same way that McConaughey is a second-tier movie star—he looks like the real thing but lacks the magic—the plot and repartee seem recycled from better pictures and the performances are merely serviceable. Sahara is not dreadful—it simply doesn't make an impression any more solid than the sand that it's built on. (PG-13)