PUBLISHED : Thursday, 07 July, 2005, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 07 July, 2005, 12:00am

Starring: Matthew McConaughey, Steve Zahn, Penelope Cruz, Lambert Wilson

Director: Breck Eisner

Category: IIA

Matthew McConaughey has long skirted super stardom, making his way on a little bit of talent and a whole lot of charm. He seems best in smaller roles (Lone Star), but worse when he's made to carry a film (Reign of Fire, How to Lose A Guy In 10 Days, and even Edtv). It hasn't helped that these projects have been lame ducks.

Enter Sahara and, you would think, a chance for McConaughey to create a franchise for himself as the cavalier adventurer Dirk Pitt, fresh from the pages of the Clive Cussler novels. It's a pretty good match for the actor too - the role seems made to measure. The pity is that the film is so uneven, coming across as a B-grade Indiana Jones, without a genius like Steven Spielberg at the helm to lift things above the ordinary.

Pitt is on a crusade to find a lost civil-war ironclad ship - and it leads him to the wilds of Africa (don't ask) where his motley crew (including the wise-cracking and scene-stealing Steve Zahn) come to the rescue of a doctor (Penelope Cruz going through the motions) who has happened upon a plague-like outbreak stemming from somewhere in the Sahara.

There's a bunch of nasties - including rent-a-Euro Lambert Wilson (The Matrix Reloaded) - up to something that has to do with toxic waste and our hero must deal with them before escaping.

The story races at you at breakneck speed, so you never get a chance to figure out what's going on. Which is probably a good thing, as when you have time to reflect, there's little to no sense to it all. Boat chases, desert ambushes and some weirdness involving a downed plane that's turned into an unlikely mode of escape keep the action quota up - and McConaughey looks like he's having fun.

The obnoxious southern rock soundtrack seems at odds with the African setting, but it's obvious the filmmakers weren't expecting anyone to take any of it seriously. After the self-importance that stymied War of the Worlds, though, it's nice to see a bit of stupidity that's occasionally entertaining.

It's loud and it's dumb - but it's also sometimes a bit of fun.

Sahara opens today