Sahara? What the fuck is up with that?

Indeed. Imagine if Bob Rafelson simply shrugged regarding Mountains of the Moon and named it Nile? Or if Werner Herzog, drunk with rage and self-loathing, had spit out Amazon rather than Fitzcarraldo? That said, this film would have sucked hairy ass even if it were called Spirits of the Sand, or some such nonsense.

There’s talk that Penelope Cruz plays a doctor. You can’t be serious.

I’d like to tell you that she’s a Mexican prostitute or some rich dude’s maid, but she’s actually a woman of medicine for the World Health Organization. Yes, I’m absolutely positive I didn’t mean to say line cook in the organization’s cafeteria.

But does she get naked? Or trade in her scrubs for a tube top?

Dude, it’s PG-13, so no dice. Cruz does appear in a bikini at the end, but I was too distracted by Matthew McConaughey’s dreamy chest and rock-hard…..I mean, the crystal blue water and golden sands.

McConaughey? Is he still alive?

Yes, apparently he’s survived just long enough so he could play Clive Cussler’s Dirk Pitt, an ex-Navy man who spends his time hunting for treasure and a high dose of adventure. Well, at least he’s entertained.

So why does the film open in Richmond, VA, circa 1865?

I’m still a bit confused, but apparently there was this Confederate ironclad named the C.S.S. Texas, and it was packed with gold coins and some secret device that was never fully explained. Suddenly, nearly a century and a half later, the wreck of the ship turns up buried in the sands of Africa. Pitt and his crew (plus Cruz) are there to find it, although they have no real proof of its existence. But what would a film like this be without a “legend” of some sort?

Hold on now — why is Cruz in Africa?

She’s working on a possible outbreak that may or may not be the plague. Young and old alike are dropping like flies in Mali, and Cruz suspects the worst. Needless to say, no one believes her, that is until she’s nearly killed and strange men in cloaks follow her around. Word of this illness must not get out!

I smell a conspiracy, quite possibly of French origin!

Why yes, some evil Frenchie named Yves Mallarde is operating a massive power company in the desert, using solar energy to destroy lethal toxins. Trouble is, the waste product is stored in leaky barrels and poison is seeping into the ground, which also means that the Niger River is polluted and that’s why people are getting sick. Eventually, it will make its way to the Atlantic Ocean and millions will perish. What, it does so make perfect sense!

An industrialist mad with power? Who’s heard of such a thing?

As hard as it is to accept, some businessmen simply refuse to play by the rules. Yves is doubly cruel and immoral because he’s teamed up with corrupt African dictators and military strongmen to hide his criminal activity and make a shitload of money. How their high-tech gizmo consisting of tubes, blinking lights, and no less than 100,000 solar panels will make them millions is beyond anyone’s guess, but it’s Hollywood, baby.

Any action? Surely Cruz and McConaughey don’t discuss science the entire time?

There’s a boat chase with numerous explosions, overturned trucks, endless rounds of ammunition, and a camel race straight from Ishtar. Nothing, however, could prepare us for the concluding scene where a military helicopter is taken out by a rusty 140-year-old cannon. I also liked what they called a “Panama,” where a yacht is packed with explosives and let loose to, uh, explode. Me like fire.


William H. Macy?!?!

He’s some Navy guy named Sandecker — tough, bearded, cigar-chomping, and slightly gay. Okay, completely.

Okay, I get it — Cheech Marin plays Dirk Pitt’s sidekick, right?

Steve Zahn, actually, but you were close. And, as expected, he’s a bundle of one-liners, wry commentary, and unexpected heroics. That, and he wears crazy t-shirts and yells bon mots like, “Okay, I’m sick of being shot at!” Hey, with noise and flame, who needs a screenplay?