The film from 2005 (now on dvd) gives a jokey ‘Indiana Jones’ take on the absurd caper because, one assumes, no other style was possible. Treasure hunter Dirt Pitt – unwittingly bringing to mind the Steve Zissou character in The Life Aquatic – jets up the Niger River in a speedboat with sidekicks Steve Zahn and another bloke to locate a long-lost ironclad battleship from the American Civil War which managed to end up the Malian Sahara. Meanwhile dedicated WHO doctor Penelope Cruz (who can’t quite summon the unself-conscious gusto of the US cast) also wants to get into war-torn Mali to investigate the source of a plague which could contaminate the whole planet and bring about the end of life as we know it. I won’t spoil your film by telling you that, with the guys’ help she saves the planet, they find the treasure, the put-upon ‘Tuaregs’ (horse-mounted no less) overcome the tank corps, the baddies get shafted and Dirk ends up frolicking with Penny in the Californian surf.
Shot in Spain and Morocco, it has to be said the locations look good. Morocco really is not bad at all and the action sequences are as good as they get. Matthew McWhatever lacks Cruz’s embarrassment at the production and his sidekick Steve Zahn is funny. What always gets me is the huge amount of work it must take to produce such a mass of quivering tripe, with split-second cuts piled on top of each other like an espresso pop video, and lashings of SFX, DFX and FX-knows what, but all for such a truly lame script. Maybe it’s for kids but it seems to parody itself, not least when, after trekking across the dunes handcuffed to a pick-up tray, the duo come across a crashed plane and deftly convert it into a sand yacht. Just like the book then, a waste of a good title and as deserty films go.