Setting sail on a sun-dappled, calamitous cruise

Fool’s Gold

on February 08, 2008 by John P. McCarthy

The bright sun. The turquoise sea. Kate Hudson and Matthew McConaughey. Add royal swag from a fabled Spanish shipwreck and Fool’s Gold should be an enjoyable mid-winter diversion. Alas, the nautical romantic comedy constitutes a missed opportunity—a voyage to Red Lobster in a dinghy—mostly thanks to mediocre directing. You can shoot a cannonball through any number of lethargic scenes and not hit anyone. Was composer George Fenton threatened with the gangplank if he didn’t fill the dead air and help mask a frustrating lack of chemistry? All he came up with was grating, faux Calypso music.

The eight-year marriage of Finn (McConaughey) and Tess (Hudson), anchored in lust and a fascination with undersea treasure-hunting, ends in a Key West courthouse due to Finn’s impractical determination to find a fortune dubbed the Queen’s Dowry. Tess is an historian, but because of Finn’s frivolous spending in pursuit of their dream haul must work as a steward on the yacht of a millionaire (Donald Sutherland), father to an airhead celebutante (Alexis Dziena). After shenanigans involving a rapper’s henchmen, Finn climbs aboard the luxury vessel and convinces Tess and her rich employer to join him in the hunt for loot off the Bahamas. Scraggly, wild-eyed and wearing surf trunks, McConaughey is in his element, yet never seems to relish the chance to perform in Tarzan mode (minus the bongos). Maybe he’s too deep into the character, too addled to make us believe he can focus on the fairer sex and adventure at the same time. Hudson bears her share of responsibility. Laboring to be both officious and sexy, she doesn’t possess a quality that matches her mother’s shrewd and flighty voluptuousness. Bottom line: She’s not Goldie Hawn, McConaughey isn’t her Kurt Russell, and this outing is less amusing and romantic than the older couple’s 1987 vehicle Overboard.

Director and co-writer Andy Tennant lets Sutherland, in his latest turn as a silver-haired patriarch, put on a bogus British accent that undermines the attempt to class-up the proceedings. Sutherland, not known for being choosy about his roles, was likely drawn to the Caribbean location, which has to top wherever they shoot ABC’s primetime soap Dirty Sexy Money. Speaking of money, presumably Ray Winstone signed on to play a salty sea scavenger (with a bad Southern accent) to earn some. Mercifully, for his admirers, the role has almost been spliced out. The filmmakers did opt to include lots of business for Dziena as the spoiled dimwit who ends up steering this dingbat express. Crass though it may be, her part works—unlike the strained caricatures of two gay chefs, bears who mumble Brooklynese while toiling on the yacht. The only line that made me chuckle was delivered by Finn’s bug-eyed Ukrainian cohort. When a night of partying in port is suggested, he asks, “Will there be prostitutes?” The admittedly dumb, off-the-wall quip brings to mind a crucial payoff that the movie lacks. The audience looks forward to the moment when Tess and Finn get their booty call—when they can stop talking about it and do it. But the scene in which the attractive specimens make love is too brief and not terribly exciting, cementing the realization that Fool’s Gold falls many doubloons short of a cinematic treasure.

Distributor: Warner Bros.
Cast: Matthew McConaughey, Kate Hudson, Donald Sutherland, Ewen Bremner, Alexis Dziena, Kevin Hart and Ray Winstone
Director: Andy Tennant
Screenwriters: Andy Tennant, John Claflin and Daniel Zelman
Producers: Donald De Line, Bernie Goldmann and Jon Klane
Genre: Romance/Comedy/Adventure
Rating: PG-13 for action violence, some sexual material, brief nudity and language
Running time: 112 min.
Release date: February 8

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