"The more things change, the more they stay the same."
If Warner Bros. had made this movie twenty years ago, it might have starred Kurt Russell and Goldie Hawn. Instead, it stars Matthew McConaughey and Hawn's daughter, Kate Hudson. Same difference.
"Fool's Gold" is a good title because it's about a search for gold treasure, and everyone doing the searching is a fool. They're not only foolish people, they're fools in the sense of court jesters as well as ardent fans of something. This 2008 release does its best to match the standards of romantic-comedy adventures set by "National Treasure" and the earlier "Romancing the Stone," but it never quite achieves its goal. It's more silly than romantic, more frantic than comedic, and more busy than adventurous. Nevertheless, it gives the genre a good try, and the cast is appealing. It's flimsy fun but better than nothing.
Above all, "Fool's Gold" is attractive to look at. Set in the Bahamas (but filmed largely in Queensland, Australia, with a few establishing shots in the Bahamas), the locations are lovely, and even the cast is lovely. McConaughey must have made WB write it into his contract that he got to bare his chiseled physique at least 800 times (and have Ms. Hudson refer to his sexual prowess at least that often). That's OK, because Ms. Hudson also gets her turn in a bikini, as do several others of the comely ensemble. However, while Hudson is exceedingly cute, she's continually upstaged by McConaughey, who appears to have been working out lately and wants everyone to know it.
McConaughey also gets slugged, shot at, beaten up, and thrown overboard about 800 times, so maybe it all evens out. It's that kind of movie, where people keep getting knocked around a good deal. You see, McConaughey's character, Benjamin Finnegan, is a treasure hunter, but he's also an irresponsible lout who borrows money from everybody to fund his escapades and then conveniently forgets to pay it back. He's got more enemies than friends. For the past few years he's been hot on the trail of lost Spanish treasure from a fleet that sank somewhere in the Bahamas three hundred years earlier. He thinks he knows where it's at, but he's such a dummy, he keeps running out of money before he can find it. He's currently into a gangster rapper (literally a gangster and a rap singer) named Bigg Bunny (Kevin Hart) for quite a lot of money that he can't possibly hope to repay unless he finds the Spanish loot, but Bigg Bunny wants him dead in any case. Go figure.
Kate Hudson plays Tess, Finn's wife, at least for a few minutes because that's as far into the film as we get before she divorces him. Although Finn can't understand why she's leaving him, we can see in a minute it's because he's such an idiot. The real question is why she married him in the first place, aside from the repeated suggestion that he's really good in the sack. Not once during the movie did I get the feeling that Tess and Finn had anything going in their romance.
Tess is currently working as a steward aboard a multimillionaire's yacht to make enough money to return to the States and get her Ph.D. Why not. Donald Sutherland plays the multimillionaire, Nigel Honeycutt, and it is he, not unexpectedly, whom Finn persuades to loan him money for a new expedition. Alexis Dziena plays Gemma, Hunnicutt's ditzy, spoiled daughter. And the only other character of consequence is Moe Fitch, a rival treasure seeker and Finn's old mentor. Ray Winstone plays Fitch, the actor becoming more visible in more movies these days than practically any fellow alive. He plays his usual tough-guy role. He does not, though, get the sculptered CGI torso he had in "Beowulf," so he stands no chance of overshadowing McConaughey.
So there you have it: Finn's after treasure and trying to get his wife back. Tess is trying to get as far away from Finn as possible, obviously not succeeding or we wouldn't have a romance in our romantic comedy. All of it bewilders Honeycutt, but he's such a good sport he goes along with Finn's romantic dreams anyway. Gemma is too much an airhead for anything to bewilder her. A subplot about Honeycutt and his daughter is too superficial and superfluous for us to care about. Fitch is Finn's rival in the story but never an enemy. And even though Bigg Bunny is an enemy, he's too much of a comic villain to be a real threat.
I'm afraid I gave up on the whole thing during the opening credits when Finn and his Ukrainian buddy Alfonz (Ewen Bremner) manage to sink their boat while swimming under it, hardly noticing when it crashes down to the bottom of the ocean next to them. I figured at that point the movie was heading for grief, and I wasn't far wrong. Finn could easily have taken his place among the Three Stooges if he'd been born a half a dozen decades earlier.
"Fool's Gold" is not awful by any means, and it's certainly good-natured enough. It's just so lightweight, with so pedestrian a treasure conflict and so uninvolving a romance that there's not a lot to care about. In fact, the thing I enjoyed most was the background music by Bob Marley and the Wailers, among others. When you like a movie's music more than its story or characters, you know the thing's in trouble.
The wide, 2.40:1 ratio picture shows its colors well, at least in the main. There are times, especially during outdoor shots, when it gets a bit dark and oversaturated, but otherwise things look good, bright and picturesque. Definition is OK, if on the soft and fuzzy side, and at times one notices some minor haloing in evidence.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 audio is marginally better than the video quality, with a wide front-channel stereo spread and an abundance of subtle but effective rear-channel noises like the sounds of waves, rain, wind, bullets, rippling water, and the ambient bloom of the musical track. Most important, the sound is pleasantly warm and natural, making it quite easy to listen to.
There isn't much going on in the special-features department. The two major items are brief and inconsequential. "Fool's Gold: Flirting with Adventure" is a behind-the-scenes promo lasting a little over four minutes, and a gag reel is a little under three minutes. That's it. There are twenty-five scene selections; various trailers at start-up only; English, French, and Spanish spoken languages; French and Spanish subtitles; and English captions for the hearing impaired.
"Fool's Gold" puts forth a bundle of energy but doesn't pay off with as much entertainment as it would like, maybe because everything we see is so predictable. We know pretty well from the outset how it's all going to turn out, even in each subsequent scene, but I suppose we should expect that of any film in the genre. It's just that this one tries too hard with too little, extending sequences that aren't very good to begin with and then just piling on more. Lord knows, it wants us to like it, and maybe that's enough.