Hey, “Sahara.” James Bond called. He wants his music, oily Euro-villains, exotic foreign locales and unflappable approach to certain doom back.

“Sahara” is an attempt to shake the dust off Bond’s tired tuxedo. Based on a book by Clive Cussler, “Sahara’s” tuxless – and usually shirtless – hero is Dirk Pitt, a thrill-seeking diver (Matthew McConaughey). Along with his wise-cracking buddy (the always-welcome Steve Zahn) and a compassionate doctor (Spanish actress Penelope Cruz, translating “compassionate” as “dull”), he dives into an adventure involving a lost Civil War ship, a treasure, an evil genius and the World Health Organization.

Actually, the movie has nothing to do with the WHO. It’s mentioned a few times – Cruz works for it – but only to give this yarn a paper-thin veneer of import. “Sahara” doesn’t care about the WHO any more than it cares about keeping us guessing on the villain front. All question of who is the bad guy vanishes when Lambert Wilson (“Catwoman,” “The Matrix Revolutions”) shows up. His cut-glass cheekbones exude evil, and Wilson’s job in every movie in which he appears is threefold: a. order around minions, b. make vague sexual advances to tied-up heroines, and c. writhe in agony as he burns to death.

Predictability is one of the virtues of “Sahara,” actually. You could choose to be irritated by how rigorously it follows the adventure rules established back in the Errol Flynn era – there’s an informative here’s-what-I’m-doing-and-why-I’m-doing-it speech from the bad guy, and many scenes end with characters looking silently into the distance, just like they do before commercials on soap operas. Or you could be charmed by the way it hews to them and then tweaks them with McConaughey’s natural athleticism and Zahn’s zonked timing.

They’re a good team and, although the movie isn’t great, it is kinda fun.

Rating: 2 1/2 out of 4 stars

Rated: PG-13, for nonbloody violence, mild language and plumber’s butt

SHOULD YOU GO? It could be better, but this sort of big adventure isn’t done much anymore, and the novelty makes “Sahara” even more welcome.


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