2005, Movie, PG-13, 127 mins


Clive Cussler's best-selling action novels about the globe-trotting escapades of Dirk Pitt, the man from NUMA (National Underwater & Marine Agency) are light, boy's-own adventures filled with preposterous derring-do and studded with nuggets of historical and geopolitical fact. So you have to question the wisdom of optioning a Cussler book and hiring a pack of writers to transform it into generic drivel — surely it would have been cheaper to commission original claptrap. Cussler's strong suit, after all, is keeping the plot developments coming so thick and fast you don't have time to wonder why an experienced field doctor would casually stuff latex gloves contaminated with a lethal hemorrhagic fever into the map pocket of her car. Virginia, 1865: The Civil War is almost over and the Confederate ironclad ship Texas, bearing a cargo of gold coins, is preparing to depart. The historical consensus is that the Texas sank somewhere off the East Coast of the U.S., but no one's ever sighted the wreck, and a smattering of tantalizing clues have spawned the fantastic theory that it may have made its way to West Africa. Dirk Pitt (Matthew McConaughey) is a believer, and when a NUMA salvage mission off the Nigerian coast yields a new clue that originated in nearby Mali, Dirk and his loyal sidekick, Al Giordino (Steve Zahn), borrow a high-tech speedboat from their boss, gruff Admiral Sandecker (William H. Macy), and head up the Niger River into the war-torn republic. They're accompanied by their trusty computer geek (Rainn Wilson) and two World Health Organization doctors, Frank Hopper (Glynn Turman) and Eva Rojas (Penelope Cruz), on an unofficial mission to track down an Ebola-like plague they fear is spreading from Mali to neighboring countries. By the time stuff stops blowing up, the cast of colorful characters has expanded to include a psycho warlord (Lennie James), a wicked French businessman (Lambert Wilson), a noble Tuareg tribe, an old CIA hand (Delroy Lindo), a useless American ambassador (Patrick Malahide) and lots of anonymous cannon fodder. First-time feature director Breck Eisner's (son of Michael Eisner, who worked at Paramount before moving to Disney) direction is, at best, workmanlike. The greatest hits of '70s bar-rock soundtrack — "We're an American Band," "Right Place, Wrong Time," "Sweet Home Alabama," "Magic Carpet Ride" etc. — has a certain rollicking, kick-ass energy that, unfortunately, never rubs off on the movie. leave a comment --Maitland McDonagh

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