If, as people say, everything is relative, then your views on Sahara will vary widely depending on which other Indiana Jones knockoff you compare it with. Measured against the laughable National Treasure, director Breck Eisner’s latest is the new Citizen Kane. But when matched up against, say, The Mummy, Sahara is just a big, fat bore. Based on the Clive Cussler novel that initiated the author’s Dirk Pitt series, the film follows an extremely unlikely hero: an explorer in search of a Civil War ironclad that reportedly ran aground in Mali in 1866. There, he encounters doctor Eva Rojas (Penélope Cruz), whose investigation of a burgeoning epidemic has run her afoul of the nation’s evil ruler, Gen. Kazim (Lennie James). Accompanied by his wisecracking sidekick, Al (Steve Zahn), Pitt (Matthew McConaughey) intervenes to save the doe-eyed physician but soon finds himself in the midst of a conspiracy involving Kazim, a greedy French investor (Lambert Wilson), and a threat to the world’s water supply. Got that? If not, don’t trouble yourself too much: Very little is made of any of these various plot strands. Indeed, the film’s initial searching-for-buried-treasure story is quickly chucked in favor of the saving-the-girl story, which is itself soon replaced by the stop-the-evil-guy-before-he-destroys-the-world story. This isn’t surprising when you consider that the film boasts a whopping four credited screenwriters, each of whom, it seems, tried valiantly to take the plot in a different direction (and none of whom is Cussler, who’s suing over the final product). The resulting willy-nilliness is downright ridiculous—so much so that, by the time Pitt stumbles toward a final desert showdown with Kazim, you’ll be yearning for him to get back to the relatively serious (and relatively plausible) business of finding that damned boat. Sahara does boast some beautiful scenery, shot mainly in Morocco, and Cruz’s English has improved, even if her acting hasn’t. Because the movie’s producers optioned three Pitt novels for a reported $30 million, there’s still some hope for her. But not for those in search of a new archaeological action hero, who should probably keep in mind something else people say: Reading is fundamental.

—Mario Correa