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Fool’s Gold is a salty yarn about a bickering husband and wife, bonded by a mutually shared dream of recovering the riches of a fabled 17th century shipwreck off the coast of the Florida Keys. A fine premise. With the very comely and comically gifted couple of Kate Hudson and Matthew McConaughey in the lead roles, it should be better. Oh, it’s not terrible. But it certainly isn’t good. If the film had just focused on the treasure hunting, in and of itself an exciting, unpredictable endeavor, Fool’s Gold might have been more fun to watch. Sadly, the treasure is buried under piles of unnecessary “serious” scenes that I suppose were meant to emotionally flesh out the characters, but instead just drags the whole venture down (to the bottom of the deep blue sea).
The film starts out well enough. Ne’er-do-well beach boy Finn (McConaughey) and his Ukrainian sidekick (Scotsman Ewan Brenner – who has some of the best dialogue to be found here) sifting through sand at the bottom of a crystal blue sea. We find out later that these waters are offshore an island in the Florida Keys owned by Bigg Bunny, a thuggish impresario of indeterminate sort who sells rum and wears pin stripes and generally throws his weight around. After an unfortunate incident involving a boat he doesn’t own, Finn ends up owing Bunny a large sum of money, which of course jobless Finn doesn’t have. After an impressive escape from the gangster’s violent lackeys, Finn must hitch a ride with some beer-addled college kids back to the Keys, where his wife, continually exasperated Tess (Hudson), is impatiently waiting for him to show up to their divorce.
She wants the divorce; he doesn’t. She gets the divorce; he tries to change her mind and she hits him in the head with a walking cane for his troubles. This is a motif that appears over and over again throughout the film, but never for a moment do we believe Tess doesn’t still love Finn and his free wheeling lifestyle, although we don’t understand why. Except for the myriad of references to Finn’s ability in the bedroom, why would an ambitious cutie like Tess go for a one-track-mind loser like Finn? “Your uselessness is epic,” she tells him at one point and it’s true. Post-divorce, Tess professes her wish to return to Chicago and finish her degree, which she abandoned during the long ago spring break where she met Finn, but again this is nothing but a plot contrivance. There is no way Tess would happily sequester herself in an ivory tower. I mean, this is a woman who shows up to her divorce hearing in sandals.
To pay her way out of Florida, Tess is working as a stewardess on a yacht belonging to Nigel Honeycutt (Donald Sutherland, looking permanently befuddled), a genteel Englishman with a red lobster tan. Besides having a yacht, Honeycutt also has a ditzy debutante daughter named Gemma (Alexis Dziena) whose personality resides somewhere between Paris Hilton and Jessica Simpson, erring on the Simpson side. Naturally Finn – by way of Gemma’s idiocy - finds his way onto the boat, gets himself invited to dinner, and convinces Honeycutt to aid him in a quest for the lost Spanish gold he and Tess learned about during their honeymoon. As it turns out Bigg Bunny is also hunting for this same treasure, with the help of Tess and Finn’s former employer – a professional treasure hunter, if you can believe it. Suddenly all that matters is finding the legendary booty before the other guy does. To this end, Tess never appears in uniform again, though she is ostensibly still in Honeycutt’s employment. Once Finn is aboard, Tess upgrades from stewardess to bonafide guest and eats a fancy dinner where she previously served it. This type of unexplained change of status characterizes what is ultimately a muddled, mixed-up film with jokes and boats.
The cinematic reunion of Kate Hudson and Matthew McConaughey, whose chemistry was the sole watchable thing about their previous pair-up How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days, gives this soggy flick the spark it needs to save it from being straight up bad. The actors obviously enjoy working together and the audience senses their pleasure, but two pretty people running around in tiny swimming costumes does not a good movie make. The other actors fare little better. Sutherland is lost in a hollow role that requires him only to provide the boat, the money, and the means to further the plot along. Overacting, thy name is Alexis Dziena - Gemma’s purpose in the film seems to be to loll about the deck in various bikinis and say stupidly obvious things, which quickly ceases to be amusing. Editors Troy Takaki and Tracey Wadmore-Smith do the actors no service with their quick cuts. Hudson has a very expressive face and retains the rare ability to display emotional shading with the mere shake of her head, but she’s never allowed a chance to shine as Takaki and Wadmore-Smith always cut away before the transformation is complete. Maybe it doesn’t matter as nobody’s going to get an Oscar nod for this flick, but it’s no fun realizing that the actors gave better performances than we’re being shown.
Fool's Gold is best when it sticks to the sea and the treasure hunt. The underwater scenes, filmed in the gorgeous waters off the Australian coast, are fabulous and luckily there are a lot of them to distract us from the other problems in the film. Water allows the filmmakers to play with visuals, such as a scene where Finn dives into the sea without goggles on: the scene switches to a p.o.v. shot rendered blurry and indistinct, just as it is when open your eyes in a swimming pool. The treasure’s back-story, communicated over the course of a few different scenes, is a bit convoluted, but all is forgiven when we catch a glimpse of the stash, hidden in such a way that would make Robert Louis Stevenson and the Pirates of the Caribbean proud. Unfortunately it takes too long to get there and a few watery moments of clarity don’t make up for what is, in essence, a long-winded plot filled with stereotypical characters built upon an unlikely-even-for-the-movies course of events. Unless you know the whereabouts of some trove of gold and gems, save your money on this one.