Entertaining piece of hokum based upon a Clive Cussler Dirk Pitt novel. Penelope Cruz is a WHO worker in Africa who is saved from marauding militia by marine archaeologist and action hero Matthew McConaughey. Their paths cross again later in civil war torn Mali where Cruz is attempting to trace the source of a river-borne plague, as McConaughey is following lead mysterious leads to is life's work - tracking down a US 19th century iron warship said to be laden with gold coins.
With McConaughey as one of his co-producers, new name director Eisner acquits himself well, be it exploding motorboat action or dealing with disease-ravaged African communities. Admittedly, this being a good old-fashioned adventure yarn, the skills challenge lies more with the former than the latter, nevertheless everything is handled effectively and the well-cast actors each give the pulp material credible turns. Unexpectedly, McConaughey manages to pull it off as the suntanned, bandanna-wearing hero with glistening biceps. Cruz is well cast and effective as the WHO worker, although her role is weakened as the plot progresses and we see increasing amounts of her (not unpleasant) cleavage. Steve Zahn is good as the comic (but not irritatingly so) sidekick Al Giordino, while William H. Macy lends support as a former navy Admiral who pulls in a few favours to help save the day.
The violence largely derives from the comic book/The A-Team variety, as faceless evil types are dispatched to meet their maker with the minimum of compassion or empathy. As the movie steadily makes its way through the two hour-plus running time, the enterprise goes slightly off-target in the final quarter, turning firmly towards 007 territory, complete with millionaire industrial baddie, and his vast solar-powered remote desert base. (See the following exchange between Al and Dirk: "I'll find the bomb. You get the girl!" "Deal" says McConaughey.) In doing so it looses a lot of its charm but, thankfully, it rallies for a final act that takes it back to its historical pre-credit sequence. Clint (Pi/Requiem for a Dream) Mansell's soundtrack is knowingly and overtly John Barry Bondesque at times, most noticeably during the thrilling river boat chase sequences when his use of trumpets is unmistakable.
Far-fetched doesn't even come close, but the entire production deserves credit, for what it lacks in originality or brevity is balanced by some feel-good, well-made, old school movie adventure fun. 7/10
Rob Dyer (November 2005)
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