Sahara is many things, but it is not a movie. It is the skull-splitting cacophony of 21 producers and four screenwriters (that we know about, anyway) standing in the same room shouting into their cell phones. It is an expectorant hey-kiddo slap on the back for director Breck “Son of Michael” Eisner, who learned everything he knows from playing Tomb Raider, and for smirking star Matthew McConaughey, who gets top billing as a trust fund hippie adventurer plus an executive credit via his company, j.k. livin (as in “Just Keep Livin’,” even if your intestines have been grated by a deadly waterborne virus and further perforated by bullets, but more on that later). Professional treasure hunters McConaughey and Steve Zahn seek an ironclad Confederate ship which has somehow lodged itself under the desert—a scenario that sails against everything I was taught in earth science class, and which invites lots of inaccurate gunfire from assorted tribal baddies. Yet Sahara does not exist in space or time—we are told that, just 100 years ago, the titular sandlot was a verdant, river-necklaced paradise, which would place us somewhere in the Neolithic era, but we also see that civil war rages in Mali, which fast-forwards us to the ’90s. (Eisner & Co. shot in Morocco, which in production terms is to generic battle-torn arid locales what Toronto is to major American cities.)
Sahara is above all a testament to family values as conceived by Bristol Bay Productions (brainchild of sports franchise billionaire Philip Anschutz), which aims to, according to the press notes, “tell uplifting stories appropriate for audiences of all ages.” Sahara measures this uplift in machine gun rounds, explosive tonnage, and the body count of dead and dying Africans piled on various dirt floors over whom W.H.O. go-getter Penélope Cruz can fret. Her pursuit of an Ebola-like plague adds a convenient humanitarian gloss to the boys’ bloody frolics, and like Monica Bellucci as the sultry doctor without borders in Tears of the Sun, Cruz’s bouncing cleavage swells with world-saving ambition.