All hail nepotism. How else do you explain the presence of Breck Eisner, whose entire résumé consists of one made-for-TV movie and two episodes of a TV series, as the director of the $130 million action-adventure Sahara? Eisner is the son of outgoing Disney CEO Michael Eisner, one of the most powerful people in Hollywood, so getting Daddy to install him as the director of a high-profile popcorn flick probably wasn't that hard.
Not that Sahara's problems are all Eisner's, and not that Hollywood nepotism can't turn out well (look at Sofia Coppola's work). But Eisner's place as the likely underqualified director is a symptom that underscores the larger disease here: No one seems to know what they're doing, or worse, much care. The four credited writers, working from a novel by popular suspense author Clive Cussler, have come up with an unimaginative Indiana Jones rip-off with giant plot holes, and Eisner has simply come in and filmed it in the most ham-handed, obvious way.
Even the stars are little more than adequate, with McConaughey as treasure hunter Dirk Pitt, who's obsessed with finding a lost Civil War ironclad he believes somehow ended up in Africa (don't ask). On the trail of the ship, Dirk and his wisecracking sidekick Al (professional wisecracking sidekick Zahn) run into Dr. Eva Rojas (Cruz), who is researching a mysterious plague for the World Health Organization. Of course, the ship and the plague wind up connected, and the trio must fight off a greedy French industrialist and an African warlord to save the day.
Eisner is clearly going for a swashbuckling, lighthearted adventure approach, but the script is so leaden that it all falls flat. Zahn, who's played this character many times, is not funny, and McConaughey and Cruz, despite (or because of) being together in real life, have little chemistry. Showing his inexperience as a director, Eisner uses hackneyed musical montages and grossly overplayed classic-rock songs to engender a false sense of goodwill, and he can't stage an action sequence to save his life.
Sahara can't even muster the rudimentary charm of the mediocre Tomb Raider films, which did a better job of combining action and treasure-hunting. Eisner blunders through a clichéd, tired story for more than two hours, and whenever things get slow, he just blows something up. His dad must be proud.