Pity the Fool

When a friend recently told me she'd been confused by the poster for the Matthew McConaughey-Kate Hudson fortune-hunting romp Fool's Gold adorning her local multiplex—that she'd thought for sure this movie had already come and gone—I understood her bewilderment. Even as a professional film critic trained in such nigh-impossible matters of deduction, I myself was stymied upon first encounter with the image of our two burnt-sienna stars standing thigh-high in aquamarine waters: Was this really a new movie, or just some infernal clip reel cut together from that McConaughey-centric Indiana Jones knockoff (Sahara), that rom-com in which Hudson fell for some shaggy overgrown slacker against her better judgment (You, Me and Dupree) and that movie in which Hudson previously fell for McConaughey (How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days)?

Well, Fool's Gold is, generously speaking, an “original,” though even screenwriters John Claflin and Daniel Zelman (who share credit with the director, Andy Tennant) have borrowed more than a bit from their own previous tropical treasure hunt, the 2004 schlock-horror sequel Anacondas: The Hunt for the Blood Orchid. And here's the rub: Anacondas was a lot more fun.

Fool's Gold is the sort of movie that makes you look more kindly upon the WGA strike. It isn't merely bad—it's so desperate that the actors can scarcely conceal their contempt for the material. You hear it in their voices, particularly those of the supporting actors who don't even try to keep up the ridiculous accents they've been asked to don: Canadian Donald Sutherland as a British billionaire; Scotsman Ewen Bremner as McConaughey's Ukrainian sidekick; Brit Ray Winstone as McConaughey's Southern-twanged rival; and erstwhile Cosby kid Malcolm Jamal-Warner as a gangsta rapper's Rastafarian henchman. Even McConaughey himself doesn't seem to be having a particularly good time, despite being cast rather close to the fun-loving, nude-bongo-drumming Adonis he plays regularly in the paparazzi spreads of People, Us Weekly, et al. Sure, he puts on his best shit-eating grin as his Ben “Finn” Finnegan sprints half-naked through the streets of Key West (don't ask) en route to his own divorce proceedings, or gets blown sky-high out of the ocean by a competitor's depth charge. But even that clownish brio does little to abate the movie's air of humid joylessness. Simply put, there's something depressing about watching a fortysomething refugee from a Jimmy Buffett concert spend two full hours of screen time trying to get rich quick. Maybe, when all is said and done, McConaughey has been cast a little too close to home.

Movies about soldiers of fortune seeking the sunken dowry of an 18th-century Spanish queen are at least supposed to deliver a minimal level of Saturday-morning-serial derring-do, but the spectacle of McConaughey and Hudson (cast as Finn's long-suffering, newly ex wife) lolling their way through Fool's Gold is so inert that it gives you a new appreciation for the uncomplicated pleasures of Into the Blue, After the Sunset and National Treasure 2. (Hell, the 1980s Sharon Stone-Richard Chamberlain cheapie Allan Quatermain and the Lost City of Gold is starting to look pretty appealing right about now.) In those movies, at least, you had the sense that the characters were in this for the thrill of the hunt, or for the sake of historical preservation, or something other than cold hard cash. But for all its convoluted backstory and blather about “holding history in your own two hands,” Fool's Gold is as monomaniacally about greed as another recent film on the subject, minus the enveloping gravitas (and, well, just about everything else): It's There Will Be Blood in bikinis and board shorts.

Watching a movie this life-sucking, you start to scour the surroundings for something—anything—to hold your interest. The endless gag lines (in every sense) about McConaughey's supposed sexual prowess? No, thanks. The swishy gay-chef character who says things like, “There's something wrong with my bisque”? Um, pass. The attractive curvilinear molding wrapping around the ceiling of the newly renovated screening room on the Warner Bros. lot? Interesting. But wait a second: Here and there, Fool's Gold shows brief signs of life in the form of 23-year-old actress Alexis Dziena, up till now best-known as Sharon Stone's strip-teasing teenage daughter in Jim Jarmusch's Broken Flowers and cast here in the rather thankless role of Sutherland's spoiled-heiress spawn. Yet Dziena takes this broad Paris Hilton parody and gives her a pleasantly ditzy charm that suggests airheaded trust-fund babies have feelings, too. She's not onscreen nearly enough to merit the price of admission, but when she is, she's the only thing about Fool's Gold that isn't all washed up.

Fool's Gold was directed by Andy Tennant; written by Tennant, John Claflin and Daniel Zelman. Opens Fri. Countywide.

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