Cinema Signal:
Dirk Pitt in action:
Inca Gold

by Clive Cussler
"The skeleton reclined in the sediment of the deep pool as if resting on a soft mattress, the cold unwinking eye sockets of the skull..."


Treasure

"No one paid the slightest attention to the pilot as he slipped around the crowd of media correspondents who overflowed from the interior of the..."
. "Sahara"

The Clive Cussler universe of action adventure with character Dirk Pitt in the hotseat never stretched as far as it does in this yarn, in which he tries to convince us that a Confederate ironclad battleship called the "CSS Texas" escaped the siege of Richmond during the civil war with a cache of mysterious heavy boxes, mysteriously disappeared, and wound up in the Sahara desert. But, that's what he did in his novel of the same name, and that's what the filmmakers, headed by director Breck Eisner, do here.

Research scientist, doctor Eva Rojas (Penelope Cruz), investigating what appears to be an infectious disease that is killing people coming out of Mali, is attacked on the beach by masked men who are seriously trying to kill her. Their mistake is in doing so within eye and earshot of former navy SEAL Pitt (Matthew McConaughey), who's been relaxing with a little spearfishing.

After an opportunity to demonstrate his hand-to-hand combat skill, we're with her when she awakens on a salvage ship and discovers Pitt and his sidekick Al Giordino (Steve Zahn) hauling up a valuable artifact from the depths and finishing up a salvage operation for N.U.M.A. (National Underwater and Marine Agency). He restores the dazed and impressed doctor to the mainland where she and her colleague Dr. Frank Hopper (Glynn Turman) continue their work for WHO (World Health Organization) by making their way to Mali. Pitt and his team split off to pursue the fate of the lost ship.

So, there they are one day, happily trolling on the Niger River in a speedboat borrowed from N.U.M.A.'s grumpy chief, Admiral Sandecker (a tongue-in-cheek William H. Macy in a part previously played by Jason Robards in 1980's "Raise the Titanic"), for tell-tale bumps on the bottom when their water sampling turns up a strange chemical that wouldn't likely be found in a river. Just how it got there will be discovered as they get closer to the bad guys who rule and kill in these parts of the desert, sociopathic General Kazim (Lennie James) and smug French industrialist, Yves Massarde (Lambert Wilson). Who said these guys were stereotypes?

Anyway... the predictability of hero and heroine crossing paths and combining forces doesn't completely swamp the lively stream of action, which includes lots of gunplay and bombs, the itinerant "Ship of Death" and the ultimate discovery of what's causing the mysterious plague-like deaths. No surprise that it has something to do with an evil alliance of power and greed.

Better than most films derived from novels, it's a pretty faithful translation to the medium. It should be, since Cussler co-wrote it in collaboration with screenwriter Thomas Dean Donnelly ("Thoughtcrimes," 2003) and had every opportunity to ensure faithfulness to his original work. So, if it doesn't come off as well or better than the book, we know where the blame lies.

Either way, no one is going to accuse Cussler of not providing us with escapist fare. To a fault (and they are many), his plot lines are sometimes outlandish exaggerations to achieve a full dose of testosterone in a framework of action and adventure. He's a hugely successful author with a large, passionate readership that readily forgives him any literary shakiness.

Cussler has pretty steadfastly kept his Dirk Pitt series out of the clutches of Hollywood, so it may be significant that he has, at last, consented. One might also infer that he had to personally agree to the casting, especially for his Dirk Pitt. This time around a buff Matthew McConaughey leads the quest, with his and his character's physical magnetism and captivating charm.

The comedic banter between him and his sidekick Giordino, which comes off in the books more as a protective surrogate than the drinking buddy, guy-talking second banana type we get from Steve Zahn. Cussler might have opted for a better choice for a character creation that affords an important texture to his unique variation on male bonding. Comedic quipping keeps it light and fun, and... flimsy, where "danger" is all too comfortable.

As for the female lead, the very hot Cruz appears to be a satisfaction for the commercial interests of the studio. She's an acting chameleon who has been sliding from small, low-budget Spanish films ("Don't Move," "Don't Tempt Me") to large scale American epics ("Vanilla Sky," "Gothika," "Head in the Clouds"). She's not wanting for work but I'm not volunteering to pay her travel costs.

How her delicate beauty comes off is largely a matter of makeup and hair styling , and those teams, on this picture, seem to have been well occupied as they rendered her from "doctor" severity and all seriousness to the more open, flowing girl of action and physicality who jumps from running camels to trains on the move and buries herself in sand as tactical camouflage. Besides being considered the babe of the moment on the American side of the pond, her unique quality in acting and sensuality is better showcased in her films from abroad.

But all that doesn't mean there's nothing of interest here. Indeed, it's visually smashing and the actors are fun to watch as they romp on the sweeping African desert to discover clues and villains in a diversion for early summer entertainment that will resonate particularly with Cussler-Pitt devotees.

As a past reader of that series, I'm here to report that the attempt to make his concept of an ironclad ship making its way from Richmond, Virginia to the African desert is no more credible on film than it was on paper. It is, however, colorful fantasy, and it provides a stunning visual anomaly on screen. But it's this sort of reaching that contributed to my graduation toward other mystery-thriller writers whose story hooks don't come off as so much formulaic over-effort.

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                                      ~~  Jules Brenner  



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Comments from readers:
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I've seen the movie and disagree with the review
Site rating: 6

I love Matthew Mc. and Cruz so I loved the movie. The review could have been more positive.

                                                           ~~ Gloria L. 




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Penelope Cruz, Matthew McConaughey and Steve Zahn
Score one for the good guys

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