Fool's Gold (United States, 2008)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

Five years ago, Hollywood paired Kate Hudson and Matthew McConaughey in the romantic comedy How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days and the match rewarded the filmmakers with box office receipts exceeding $100 million. No doubt the hope was that a reunion of these two in a script intended to recall Romancing the Stone would reap similar benefits. Somehow, however, Fool's Gold doesn't have all the necessary elements. The movie isn't entirely successful as a romance or as an adventure, which makes the experience of watching it feel shallow and hollow, sort of like the stars and the plot.

It would be nice to say that Hudson and McConaughey connect the same way they did in How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days, but the fitful chemistry from that film has all but evaporated here. There are occasional moments when it threatens to flare back to life, but not enough of them. Plus, McConaughey seems to be trying to appear as grungy and un-sexy as possible. He looks like a burnt-out surfer in desperate need of a shave, a shower, and a haircut. Hudson is a little flat (this is a reference to her performance not any other attributes), but that's been the tale of her career since she blew the cinematic world away by becoming Penny Lane.

The screenplay and its transition to the screen by director Andy Tennant (who is also listed among the co-writers) has major tone problems. The first 75 minutes are so top heavy with character building and exposition that they will threaten to put some viewers to sleep. The abbreviated (but nevertheless tedious) discourse about why a Spanish treasure ship wasn't where it was thought to be nearly lost me. If ever there was a scene that could be said to stop a movie dead in its tracks, this is it. The final act, which comprises the last 30 minutes, is reasonably entertaining, with action that culminates in a little James Bond-style derring-do. The problem is that it takes too long to get to that point. The only instances of "action" preceding this are when Matthew McConaughy gets his ass kicked - something that happens with a regularity you don't expect from a leading man not named Jack Black, Will Ferrell, or Adam Sandler.

Fool's Gold starts somewhere in the Caribbean with Finn (McConaughey) and his sidekick Alfonz (Ewan Bremmer) diving for treasure. There's a little accident and their boat sinks, but it represents an excellent marker for what Finn believes may be the end of a long and painful search for a lost Spanish Galleon. He tells his ex-wife, Tess (Hudson), about the find and she's intrigued until he is unable to provide proof that his discovery is more than a figment of his imagination. Soon, however, he has enraptured a rich multimillionaire, Nigel Honeycutt (Donald Sutherland), and his bimbo daughter, Gemma (Alexis Dziena), with tales of old ships and sunken treasure. Tess, currently working for Nigel, ends up on board almost by default. Soon, they're in a race to find the sunken ship against an old rival - Moe Fitch (Ray Winstone), who was at one time Finn's mentor. But the two have additional competition from gangster rapper Bigg Bunny (Kevin Hart), who has deals in place with both Moe and Finn but intends to take everything for himself.

Fool's Gold is comprised of three distinct elements: the treasure hunt which, despite being overly long, is moderately engaging; the romance between Finn and Tess as they reconnect under the water and in danger, which is lukewarm; and the father/daughter bonding between Nigel and Gemma, which would be laughably absurd even if Donald Sutherland's accent wasn't so awful. Alexis Dziena (best know for giving Bill Murray an eyeful in Broken Flowers) adds some energy to the production playing a brunette so dumb you can't believe she's not blond. One has to hope this is good acting, although her "serious" scenes with Sutherland don't support such an interpretation of her skills.

Am I the only one who is beginning to find McConaughey more creepy than sexy? Put in the right role, he can be effective (Two for the Money comes to mind), but the constant desire of filmmakers to shoehorn him into adventure movies seems at best to be an instance of minor miscasting. The hero of a movie like this should at least be able to stand up for himself. McConaughy gets hit in the face at least a half-dozen times and on most of those occasions he doesn't get up. Do we really want a romantic comedy action film with a scraggly, unkempt wimp as the male protagonist?

Tennant has a pretty good resume when it comes to affecting lighthearted romances (he directed both Hitch and Fools Rush In), but he doesn't have the right actors to pull it off here. Hudson and McConaughey are both passive. Pair Dziena with either of them and a few fireworks might have gone off. Overall, Fool's Gold is not unwatchable and the action-overloaded final 30 minutes passes quickly and easily. It's getting to that point that can be a chore. At best, Fool's Gold deserves a bronze.

Fool's Gold (United States, 2008)

Run Time: 1:52
U.S. Release Date: 2008-02-08
MPAA Rating: "PG-13" (Violence, Profanity, Nudity)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1