When a friend told me recently that she'd been confused by the poster for the Matthew McConaughey-Kate Hudson fortune-hunting romp Fool's Gold adorning her local multiplex — she was 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 too was stymied upon my first encounter with the key art of our two burnt-sienna-tinted stars standing thigh-high in aquamarine waters: Was this really a new movie, or just some infernal clip reel cut together from 2005's McConaughey-centric Indiana Jones knockoff (Sahara), the previous rom-com where Hudson fell for some shaggy overgrown slacker against her better judgment (You, Me and Dupree) and that other movie where Hudson fell for McConaughey (How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days)? Well, Fool's Gold is, strictly speaking, an “original,” though screenwriters John Claflin and Daniel Zelman (who share credit with the director, Andy Tennant) have borrowed generously from their own earlier tropical treasure hunt, the 2004 schlock-horror sequel Anacondas: The Hunt For the Blood Orchid. 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 Ukranian 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 appears as regularly in the pages 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 40-something refugee from a Jimmy Buffett concert spend two 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, or After the Sunset, or 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 back story 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 moulding wrapping around the ceiling of the newly renovated screening room on the Warner Bros. lot? Yes! 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, until 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 | Directed by ANDY TENNANT | Written by JOHN CLAFLIN, DANIEL ZELMAN and TENNANT, from a story by CLAFLIN and ZELMAN | Produced by DONALD DeLINE, BERNIE GOLDMAN and JON KLANE | Released by Warner Bros. | Citywide