Romancing the Stoned

Salt Lake City Weekly | February 5, 2008
Sure, I “get” the Matthew McConaughey thing, to the extent that it’s possible for a straight guy fully to understand. The chiseled torso, the lazy grin, the surfer-boy looks—if you had a police sketch artist create a composite drawing of every college girl’s Spring Break hookup fantasy, and breathed life into it, it would look a lot like Matthew McConaughey. If we lads can have our Jessica Alba, the ladies can have their himbo equivalent. Seems only fair.

But somewhere along the line, filmmakers have become convinced that McConaughey’s laid-back hunkitude translates into a career as a romantic comedy leading man—this despite a perpetually glazed expression that doesn’t suggest true love so much as it does a serious case of the munchies. The problem with Fool’s Gold isn’t that someone watched How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days and believed McConaughey actually displayed chemistry with Kate Hudson. It’s that it’s hard to imagine McConaughey interested in any sort of chemistry that isn’t ingested.

Because it’s contractually obligated that a McConaughey character have a casually macho name like Steve or Dirk or Tripp, he plays “Finn” Finnegan, who spends his days scavenging the sea floor around the Florida Keys and the Bahamas for sunken treasure. His vagabond ways have finally sent his wife Tess (Hudson) over the edge, and their divorce has just become final. But Finn has just found a key to the quest that has long connected them: a fortune in Spanish gold known as the Queen’s Dowry lost in a 1715 hurricane. And with the help of Tess’ conveniently wealthy employer Nigel Honeycutt (Donald Sutherland), they’re going to try to find the treasure before homicidal rapper Bigg Bunny (Kevin Hart)—who actually holds a big bunny in his lap, like a freaky cross between Sean Combs and Blofeld—scoops it up first.

Director Andy Tennant (Hitch) tweaked the script created by John Claflin and Daniel Zelman (the Anaconda sequel The Hunt for the Blood Orchid), and it appears that they were aiming for a romantic adventure along the lines of Romancing the Stone, full of sun-soaked scenery and breezy danger. But such a delicate concoction requires a few key elements, none of which are on display here. First, it requires a director with a sense of pacing, a concept of which Tennant appears oblivious. A lengthy exposition sequence early in the film finds Finn and Tess relating the history of the Queen’s Dowry, its only logical function being to demonstrate how the thrill of this chase still connects the two estranged lovers. But Tennant has no clue how to edit to this end, leaving a painfully drawn-out chunk of blather that grinds the film to a halt.

It’s also helpful if a light-hearted caper maintains a certain degree of focus, and Fool’s Gold proves utterly inept in that regard. The story wanders off to dwell on Honeycutt’s strained relationship with his tabloid-fodder socialite daughter Gemma, played by Alexis Dziena with the most obvious ditzy self-absorption possible. There are too many supporting characters to establish—Finn’s rival/mentor (Ray Winstone), Honeycutt’s gay-partner cooks (Adam LeFevre and Michael Mulheren), Bigg Bunny’s inept thugs—leaving a full hour of slogging along before the narrative finds anything resembling momentum. And frankly, it’s hard to focus on anything when nearly half the cast is trying to pull off an accent of some sort, and failing spectacularly.

Of course, much of this might have been more tolerable had there been any zip to the central romantic pairing. Hudson’s an engaging enough performer, but her character here is pretty hard to comprehend, since the film is building to a resolution—finding the treasure—that will eliminate the only thing Tess and Finn actually have in common. Tess does dwell, however, on how amazing the sex is with Finn, and that’s at least an honest way to deal with McConaughey’s limitations as an actor. Fool’s Gold doesn’t even pretend to give him a character whose primary appeal isn’t that of stud horse, or worry about whether there’s a spark between him and his leading lady. It’s content to let him wander around with his shirt off, smiling a rogueish smile, posing for his next “Sexiest Man Alive” cover. In a movie this synthetic and unfocused, it’s almost fitting for the star to be a spaced-out Malibu Ken doll.


*1/2 (one and a half out of four stars)

Starring: Matthew McConaughey, Kate Hudson, Donald Sutherland.

Directed by Andy Tennant

Rated PG-13.

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