Fool’s Gold

2008-02-08 (General release)

It’s sorely tempting to seek bright spots in Fool’s Gold, however few and far between they are. Ray Winstone plays a treasure hunter, gnarly and tanned and a good shot. And, um, well… in fact, Fool’s Gold is pretty much bereft of bright spots.

This isn’t exactly surprising, as the film capitulates entirely to lackluster but probably profitable formula. First up, Matthew McConaughey shirtless. As much as Fool’s Gold rips off National Treasure‘s essential plot, McConaughey sports abs and a tan Nic Cage will never manage, and so appears to change the terms of the treasure hunt. It helps that this hunt is set in the Caribbean, which grants plenty of opportunity for exposure. It doesn’t help that Finn comes with an occasional Ukrainian sidekick Alfonz (Ewan Bremner), who points out the stereotypicality of his role and plays it anyway (“I don’t think of myself that way,” he tells the villain who names him “sidekick.” Rather, “I’m the lead character in my own story.”)

Kate Hudson plays the girlfriend character, here named Tess, an academic by career choice but an avid treasure hunter by nature. Her inner conflict is manifest in her divorce from the no-count Finn, which occurs in the film’s first few minutes and is almost immediately cast aside in favor of their joint venture, the pursuit of 18th-century Spanish treasure they’ve finally figured out to be hidden in a blow hole that’s conveniently near the divorce site.

It also happens that Tess, the so-called responsible one, is working for the very wealthy and apparently British Nigel (Donald Sutherland in yachting cap). Instantly converted by the couple’s enthusiastic retelling of their search for the treasure, he provides funding for equipment and the services of his daughter Gemma (Alexis Dziena), who resents her father, courts the paparazzi (à la Paris Hilton), and finds Finn’s abs immensely appealing. Before you start worrying about tensions between Tess and Gemma, however, know this: Tess is determined to school Gemma not to behave like the bag of hammers she tends to emulate, though she’s been encouraged to do so her entire life. As Tess instructs Nigel — while Gemma is sitting right in front of her — “I’m sorry but she’s got to learn there are better ways to get attention than acting like a bimbo!” With this nod to girl power, the film proceeds to put Gemma and Tess in all manner of skimpy clothing, posing on the beach and diving in the perfect blue sea.

This is not to diminish the movie’s attention to McConaughey shirtless. He is much appreciated, most vocally by Tess’ gay best friends (Michael Mulheren and Adam LeFevre), cooks on Nigel’s yacht and emphatically impressed by Finn’s oh-so-attractive body. Such subplotty efforts to equalize the abs contest between Tess and Finn are less than successful. For, as much as Finn appreciates Tess’ treasure research skills, she does eventually lapse into a need-to-be rescued mode, in order to assure us that Finn’s own beauty is not skin deep. Such jeopardy is occasioned by the movie’s resident gangster, a rich rapper with a joke name, Bigg Bunny (Kevin Hart), to whom Finn owes money. Once Bigg Bunny hears about the potential payoff of the treasure, he sends his thug-killers (Brian Hooks, David Roberts, and for a sad minute, Malcolm Jamal-Warner) to take care of Finn and bring back the goods.

With the introduction of these black men with guns, the film’s parody becomes completely tedious. They play the generic gamut — from Rasta to thuggish to pseudo-comically inept — providing Finn with the chance to be bruised and bloodied (and shirtless again) and Tess with reason to hit back or succumb, depending on what Finn needs to prove. As Fool’s Gold makes its way from one action set piece to another, with time out for the re-blossoming of fabulous-white-bodied love, the black men are most certainly not the lead characters, even in their own stories.

RATING 2 / 10