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Fool's Gold   D

Warner Bros. Pictures

Year Released: 2008
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Director: Andy Tennant
Writers: John Claflin, Daniel Zelman, Andy Tennant
Cast: Matthew McConaughey, Kate Hudson, Donald Sutherland, Ewen Bremner, Alexis Oziena, Kevin Hart, Ray Winstone.

Review by Rob Vaux

I often refrain from reviewing movies like Fool's Gold because it's such a waste of time... like surgically dissecting a turd to find out why it stinks so much. Is anything so miserable worth such an effort? Will we glean anything useful from the process? Dozens of movies like this appear every year, each one dreadful and none fated to be remembered past the moment when the unsold DVDs are shoveled into the nearest landfill. Beyond cementing Matthew McConaughey's status as the Patrick Swayze of the new millennium, Fool's Gold has nothing to offer but aggressive drone-like mediocrity, courtesy of committee filmmaking at its worst.

To start with, it's not funny. At all. Director Andy Tennant seems to have found a mythical Zen space of bad comedic timing wherein his cast flops spastically around punch lines that thud to the floor like bowling balls dropped into oatmeal. Its romantic credentials wither beneath the shocking non-chemistry of McConaughey and co-star Kate Hudson, while its screwball adventure subplot -- intended to invoke the wild romp of Romancing the Stone -- confounds even the most lax definitions of "fun" or "entertainment." McConaughey plays a treasure hunter/Jimmy Buffet clone who bums around the Caribbean looking for lost Spanish gold. Hudson is his soon-to-be-ex-wife, working as a steward on the yacht of a high-falutin' billionaire (Donald Sutherland) and cursing the years she wasted on this irresponsible twit. But then word comes of a fabled 18th-century treasure sunk on a nearby coral reef, and we're off on a series of incredibly sad and desperate hijinks in an effort to land the booty before an evil rap star (Kevin Hart) can acquire it first.

Yes, you read that last part right. I suspect the producers thought it would be a suitably wacky twist on the standard criminal kingpin foil. It gets considerably less wacky when the rap star starts executing henchmen out of hand, but Fool's Gold never notices that. And why should it? None of the rest of the movie generates so much as a snicker, so treating cold-blooded killers as some kind of good-natured frat-boy rivals won't harm the atmosphere in the slightest. McConaughey gamely allows himself to be smacked around at will (the basis for most of the film's humor), but without more sympathy for his character, each blow feels richly deserved. Hudson once again looks like she wandered into a movie far beneath her... joined by Sutherland (an American affecting a terrible British accent) and Ray Winstone (a Brit spitting out a southern drawl like broken teeth), whose star presence demands the creation of half-assed subplots that challenge the audience's will to live. The beautiful West Indies scenery recoils beneath dull set pieces, foundering character development, and an overly complex (yet not at all interesting) narrative hinging on the wettest, ugliest piece of plot exposition you're likely to hear this year.

When the ostensible purpose of the exercise fails so completely, one immediately starts probing for causes. A good case of misguided creativity or directorial hubris can make even the biggest disaster interesting (as a cautionary example if nothing else). But here too, Fool's Gold suffers from agonizing banality. Corporate thinking produced it, mutilating the storyline in an attempt to accommodate too many commercial needs while fumbling the basic mechanics required to sell the most trivial gag or concept. I could discuss the disquieting racial stereotypes amid the film's black characters (mostly villains), but that would assume it had the intelligence to perpetrate such malice knowingly. I'm not inclined to give it that much credit. Hudson and McConaughey -- both once so promising -- are clearly on the back end of things here, suggesting that they came on board only after more thriving performers passed on an obvious bomb.

And movies like this are always the norm in Hollywood, not the exception. They choke the medium dead with their insipid timidity, and while the odd few occasionally seize the public's oversaturated attention span, even the biggest hits of this ilk vanish from all thought within the space of a few months. Product Fool's Gold remains, but even the most brazenly commercial product still needs some bit of energy or competence to justify a sale. The title tells you everything you need to know about this one: at least honesty in advertising still counts for something.

Review published 02.08.2008.

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