A film review by Craig J. Koban


2008, PG-13, 117 mins.


Matthew McConaughey: Ben Finnegan / Kate Hudson: Tess / Donald Sutherland: Nigel Honeycutt / Ray Winstone: Moe Fitch / Kevin Hart: Bigg Bunny / Alexis Dziena: Gemma

Directed by: Andy Tennant / Screenplay by John Claflin and Daniel Zelman

FOOL’S GOLD, as a whole, feels like it was made up of unwanted, erroneous material from other films.  I can only imagine the pitch meetings for this one: “FOOL’S GOLD is ROMANCING THE STONE meets NATIONAL TREASURE meets INDIANA JONES with a shirtless Matthew McConaughey, a bikini-clad Kate Hudson, Donald Sutherland as a rich Brit, a gangsta rapper crime boss, a former COSBY SHOW as a bad guy, pretty locales, and two whimsical gay sidekicks.”  

The film is a romantic comedy that is light on romance and sly wit; it’s an action-adventure thriller with not much intrigue or excitement; and it’s a treasure hunt film where the mystery and anticipation of finding said treasure is tiresome and tedious.  FOOL’S GOLD is a rare filmgoing experience in the manner it fails to work cohesively on any of its intentional levels.  As a result, you leave the theatre feeling that the film is disposable. 

The film marks the reuniting of stars McConaughey and Hudson, who were last an on-screen item in the surprise romantic comedy hit, HOW TO LOSE A GUY IN 10 DAYS.  That film was not entirely successful in its own right, but the two likeable leads had some decent chemistry.  In FOOL’S GOLD I think that they try to rekindle that dynamic in a decidedly Michael Douglas / Kathleen Turner kind of way, but the problem here is that McConaughey and Hudson are so bland and flavorless together on screen that you kind of need to remind yourself that you want these two together.  McConaughey seems to be all about playing up to his everyman, surfer-esque, slacker-embodied clown with an Adonis body and goofy joviality (yes, he does it well, but this schtick is getting tiresome) and Hudson seems like she’s playing her part on auto-pilot, which means looking cute and performing with minimal effort.  The leads, to be sure, are limitlessly attractive, but the characters they play and the movie that surrounds them lacks involvement. 

At least the film looks pretty (get rid of the stars, the ham-invested story, and lackluster intrigue, and FOOL’S GOLD could have been an attractive promo film for a travel agency).  The film begins somewhere in the Caribbean and we meet Finn (McConaughey, always fun to watch, but phoning it in with a bit too much obviousness here) and his trusted sidekick, Alfonz (Ewan Bremmer), diving for treasure.  Finn has determination and drive, but is not the sharpest knife in the drawer (while underwater he inadvertently allows his ship to catch on fire and sink to the bottom of the sea).  Regardless of the tragedy of losing his ship, Finn shrugs it all off with the excitement of finding a clue to his passion project: discovering the sunken wreckage of a Spanish Galleon that sank in the 1700’s filled will all sorts of treasure.  Yargggh! 

Finn got some help along the way with his quest, especially from his soon-to-be ex-wife, Tess (Hudson, lacking charisma and spunk).  While he is under the sea trying to salvage what was left of his ship, Tess is in a lawyer’s office preparing for a divorce from her hapless husband.  She hates the fact that he has no ambition and career goals and that he is penniless.  But, she married him – by her own admission – for his bedroom skills because Finn is a stud with a rock hard bod.  Yet, when she discovered that she could not find much else to like about the guy, it made marriage uninspiring…aside from the hot, passionate sex, of course. 

Eventually, fate sweeps in and Finn and Tess are reunited.  She is now working on the yacht of a filthy-stinking rich billionaire named Nigel Honeycutt (Donald Sutherland, utilizing a ridiculously bad English accent), who in turn has a spoiled Paris Hilton-like bimbo of a daughter named Gemma (Alexis Dziena, an attractive young star, but hopelessly annoying and irksome here).  Needless to say, Finn manages to find his way aboard the vessel and back into Tess' life, much to her chagrin.  

Finn manages to intrigue Nigel about how close he is to discovering the Spanish treasure, which also peaks the interest of Tess.  Within no time, all of them begin to embark on a voyage to find, once and for all, the true whereabouts of the long lost 18th Century bling-bling, but they are not alone.  In opposition are a crusty old rival, Moe Fitch (Ray Winstone, who gives the film a much-need spark of gnarly intensity) and a gangster rapper named Big Bunny (Kevin Hart) who has to be one of the least threatening antagonists in a long time.  He is not assisted by his posse of incalculably clumsy henchmen.  You know a film is in trouble when it casts Malcolm-Jamal Warner (yes, Theo Huxtable himself from TV's THE COSBY SHOW) as one of the heavies in the villain’s criminal underworld. 

The first problem with FOOL’S GOLD is that it’s pacing is sluggish and takes an awfully long time to get into the story of the search for the treasure.  Compounding this are the poorly written characters.  The film focuses on the Tess / Finn romance (which is paint-by-numbers here), the relationship between Nigel and his ditzy daughter (which is teeth-gratingly contrived, especially considering how irritating the daughter character is and how equally exasperating Sutherland’s performance is; he's presence here in embarrassing).  Then we have the whole angle of Finn’s relationship to the film’s villain, the latter who never, ever emerges as a considerable nor scary threat (he and his cronies are essentially cardboard cutouts and buffoons; the film can’t decide whether to make them scary or hilarious).  And the screenplay serves up a wacky and would-be hilarious married gay couple that works on Nigel's ship as cooks for good measure.  Seriously, who decided that throwaway homosexual characters are the best forms of comic relief?  They were groan-inducing.

Andy Tennant, who made the delightful HITCH, the so-so SWEET HOME ALABAMA, and the wretched FOOLS RUSH IN, directs FOOL'S GOLD with limited flair.  He manages to generate some modest thrills in the film’s final act, when all parties race towards the treasure, and some of the stunt work is good, but it seems that the whole build up to this point is lethargic and tedious.  None of the character interactions gel with any level of workable comic edge, the exposition about the location of the Spanish vessel is sleep inducing, and love story within the action film is formulaic and stale. 

And for that matter...when will McConaughey realize that his presence in one bad romantic comedy after another every year is not required anymore?  The actor is affably disarming, but his willingness to play these clean-cut, handsome, and loveable boneheads is growing irksome.  In FOOL'S GOLD he spends most of his time parading around and mugging the camera without his shirt on to show off his chiseled physique, almost as if he were in a photo shoot for the next Men’s Health Magazine.  McConaughey is a gifted performer (films like AMISTAD, FRAILTY, WE ARE MARSHALL, and TWO FOR THE MONEY are proof-positive), but he seems to undermine his talent by coasting in films like FAILURE TO LAUNCH, THE WEDDING PLANNER, and, yes, FOOL’S GOLD.  

This film has the recipe for a good romantic comedy/action film: it has appealing and attractive actors that are easy on the eyes and it has locales surrounding them that are equally opulent.  However, FOOL’S GOLD is a wasteful seafaring auctioneer with very little eye-popping spectacle and even less sizzle and chemistry between its two leads.  As a nautical romance, the film should have been a lightweight, audience-pleasing romp.  Instead, the film is unfunny, trite, awkwardly paced and scripted, and wearisomely low on excitement.  FOOL’S GOLD is a highly apt title: I certainly felt like a fool watching it during its overbearingly long two hour running time.

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