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Adventure and romance fuel pleasant escapes

By Lady Liberty
web posted April 11, 2005


** 1/2 out of ****

SaharaSometimes I want to go to the movies for no other reason than to be entertained. I don't care whether or not I learn anything. I don't even care whether or not I feel much (other than entertained). I just want to enjoy myself for a couple of hours. I thought Sahara might fill the bill where those desires were concerned, and so I bought tickets and popcorn hoping for a little don't-make-me-think-too-hard-about-this escapism. I'm pleased to say that my wishes were granted.

In Sahara, Dirk Pitt (Matthew McConaughey) is something of a scientist, but a military background (never really discussed in the movie, by the way) and a yen for adventure means he's far more likely to be engaged in risky behavior than to be doing any kind of staid research. His longtime pal and partner Al Giordino (Steve Zahn) works with him, and is typically at least as ready for action as is Pitt himself. Fortunately, the two work for retired Admiral Sandecker (William H. Macy) and NUMA, a civilian organization that travels around the world seeking to find and return pieces of history to the people of various countries. That, in turn, gives the two careers offering both satisfaction and risk.

Even that's not quite enough to quench Pitt's obsession to locate an old Confederate ironclad boat he insists made it across the Atlantic to Africa more than 150 years ago. The subject, notes Sandecker with some disgust, inevitably comes up every time the team visits Africa. Though Pitt is ridiculed by everyone for such a far-fetched notion, he finds just enough intriguing new evidence that he's able to talk the boss into letting him pursue his passion—but only for 72 hours. Along with a NUMA technician (Rudi, played by Rainn Wilson), the Pitt and Giordino take their scant clues to see what lies upriver from the coast.

Meanwhile, Dr. Eva Rojas (Penelope Cruz) and her WHO co-worker Dr. Hopper (Glynn Turman) have a passion of their own, and that's to find and stop the source of a terrible—and fatal—plague that seems to be spreading. Rojas has no idea that she's stepping on some highly placed toes in her investigations, and only learns that's the case when she's attacked by unknown assailants. The heroic Pitt happens to be nearby at the time, however, and he comes to her rescue. Of course, now that the two have met, they continue to run into each other during the course of their respective missions. It comes as no real surprise when Pitt and Giordino actually find themselves traveling along the same roads as Rojas and Hopper for a time, and that the two seemingly disparate efforts become as intertwined as do the characters.

The problem for both the treasure hunters and the medical doctors is that the end to their search seems to be in Mali, a region torn by civil war and much of which is ruled with an iron fist by General Kazim (Lennie James). For reasons of his own, Kazim doesn't want the doctors to succeed. The fact that Pitt and Giordino are involved is purely coincidental as far as Kazim is concerned. That doesn't mean they're in any less danger, of course, from Kazim or his troops. NUMA and WHO rely on American Ambassador Polidori (Patrick Malahide), a French businessman and the power behind Massarde Industries (Lambert Wilson), and an undercover CIA agent (DelRoy Lindo) to try to track and save their people. But who is on which side? And what dangers will evolve thanks to the conflicting goals of all of those involved?

The plot sounds a lot more complicated in written form than it is the big screen. Based on one of the Dirk Pitt novels written by noted author Clive Cussler, the screenplay is in fact fairly formulaic. In the case of a movie like Sahara, though, that's not really a criticism. The film is supposed to be fun, not complicated, and it is fun. There are moments of outright amusement, and times of just plain bemusement throughout. The storyline itself is far-fetched, but again, that's how movies like this work (in the inevitable comparisons between Sahara and the Indiana Jones franchise, take note of the fact that a race to capture the Ark of the Covenant doesn't exactly ring all that true to life, either).

The acting is largely quite capable. Matthew McConaughey—who I personally consider to be underrated almost as a matter of course by many critics—is a natural here. His Texan devil-may-care attitude is a perfect fit for Pitt's cavalier behavior. Steve Zahn's performance looks at times to be forced, but that appears to be a directorial flaw rather than any shortcoming on his part. Cruz, however, is another story. She's a lovely woman, but she was sadly miscast here (I imagine McConaughey isn't unhappy that she was, however, seeing as how the two embarked on a personal relationship during and after the course of filming). William H. Macy is never less than very good, but Rainn Wilson is a true delight in virtually every scene he inhabits. As a whole, the action is exciting, and the story interesting (though predictable) enough to hold you between the action scenes.

Sahara isn't the best written or acted movie ever made. And it doesn't really measure up to the Indiana Jones films (though there aren't many films that do). But it does everything it sets out to do, and that's to provide entertainment value for your ticket dollars. If you'd like to suspend disbelief and have some fun during the course of a movie, Sahara will do just fine.

POLITICAL NOTES: At one point, a character is confronted with what might happen if the world finds out what he's done. The character responds, "This is Africa. No one cares what happens in Africa." Sadly, that line rings all too true. While I don't agree that the entire rationale behind the war in Iraq is oil as is contended by some critics, I also don't think the sole motivation behind the action there can be said to be either the War on Terrorism or the toppling of an evil regime. If those were the real motives, then there are plenty of places in Africa where the rest of the world should have stepped in to halt genocides and other atrocities. That they haven't says something about Africa and, more importantly, about us.

FAMILY SUITABILITY: Sahara is rated PG-13 for scenes of "action violence." The very nature of the film, however, makes much of the violence seem almost comic-bookish and thus not unsuitable for those age 10 or so and older (although parents should be cautioned that there is one scene in which government soldiers cold-bloodedly kill everything that movies and another in which a man is executed for refusing to divulge information, and those scenes are graphic enough that they may not be suitable for many). Sahara would be a great family film for those families with older kids, a good date movie for teens, and an entertaining two-hour diversion for the rest of us.

Fever Pitch

** 1/2 out of ****

Fever PitchI didn't originally intend to see Fever Pitch. Though I'm a fan of the Farrelly Brothers (There's Something About Mary), the comedic value of their movies hasn't been as reliable in recent years (let's not revisit Stuck on You, shall we?). But a few preliminary good reviews and a very convenient show time convinced me to buy a ticket. And after having seen Fever Pitch, I have to say that I don't regret that I did.

Lindsey Meeks (Drew Barrymore) is a high-powered executive about to turn "twenty-ten." Her past relationships with men have involved other successful businessmen, and have been abject failures. Ben Wrightman (Jimmy Fallon), on the other hand, is a teacher of gifted math students. He's also a diehard Boston Red Sox fan. His past relationships have failed due almost entirely to his inability to prioritize girlfriends over baseball. The two meet when Ben brings a few of his students to meet a professional who uses math on a daily basis in her successful career.

Lindsey is really too busy to spend time with the students or their teacher, but she makes the best of it and it turns out she actually enjoys herself. Ben thinks Lindsey is attractive, but doesn't even think about asking her out until one of his students mentions he could never get a woman like that. Largely just to meet the challenge of a twelve year-old, Ben marches back to Lindsey's office and asks her out. She, of course, refuses, and that's that. After some girlfriends point out some harsh truths about relationships to Lindsey, however, she rethinks her decision and calls Ben to tell him she'll go out with him after all.

Their first date is a disaster. But somehow it's that disaster that proves Ben to be the kind of guy that might deserve a shot, and so Lindsey gives it to him. Before long, it's readily apparent that the two are falling for each other. Lindsey's friends approve, though with some reservations; Ben's friends don't really care. You see, baseball season is about to begin, and for Ben and his friends, that means a whole new life of hope for their beloved—but cursed—Boston Red Sox.

When the differences between non-baseball season and baseball season Ben become evident (or as Lindsey calls them, Winter Guy and Summer Guy), the relationship is strained to the breaking point. Lindsey wants what she wants, and Ben can't choose between the two greatest loves of his life. The couple struggles even as the Red Sox struggle, and it seems that the curse of the Bambino may have affected Ben and Lindsey as much as it continues to hurt Boston's baseball team. Boston faces the New York Yankees in the play-offs, and Ben must deal with the fact that Lindsey might be moving on. Both are almost certainly losing propositions. Ben's never given up on the team before, but could he be willing to do just that if it means giving him another chance with Lindsey?

Fever Pitch is something of a surprise given its directors. It's funny, yes, but not in a slapstick or crude way. It's...sweet. And it's directed and edited to be that way quite successfully. Drew Barrymore plays much the same character she always does, but it's perfect for Fever Pitch. Jimmy Fallon is a revelation in this role. The former stand-up comedian and Saturday Night Live alum is actually really good on the big screen. He's cute, he's natural, and he was perfectly cast as Ben. The supporting actors are good (including an hysterical turn as Lindsey's dad by James B. Sikking), but the movie focuses on Lindsey and Ben, and Drew and Jimmy are more than able to hold their own in support of the movie.

And baseball fans take note: Many of the baseball scenes were filmed in the real Fenway Park during real Red Sox games in 2004. As it happens, the movie was actually rewritten to accommodate what no one really believed would ever happen, and certainly not in 2004: The Red Sox won the World Series for the first time since 1918. Red Sox players portray themselves onscreen during the film, and noted author and big baseball fan Stephen King makes a cameo appearance as himself. I don't like baseball, but the 2004 Red Sox were surprising, and their story an amazing one. Despite knowing how that part of the movie would play out, I found myself actually rooting for the team. That says something about the Red Sox, sure, and some of the greatest comebacks in baseball history. But it also says something good about Fever Pitch. I suspect you'll appreciate it as much as I did when you see this film.

FAMILY SUITABILITY: Fever Pitch is rated PG-13 for "crude and sexual humor, [and] some sensuality." It's my opinion that kids too young to understand the humor won't be influenced by it. There's no nudity or truly foul language, and the story of compromise in relationships is a valuable lesson especially for kids. While not a good movie for the youngest children, I'd consider Fever Pitch okay for the average eight year-old and up. Fever Pitch is actually an ideal date movie comprising both sports and a love story, but I think grown-ups (okay, I admit it, particularly grown-up women) will enjoy Fever Pitch, too. I know I did.

Lady Liberty is a graphic designer and pro-freedom activist currently residing in the Midwest. More of her writings and other political and educational information is available on her web site, Lady Liberty's Constitution Clearing House, at http://www.ladylibrty.com. E-mail Lady Liberty at ladylibrty@ladylibrty.com.


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