'Fool's Gold' leaves its stars high and dry

Times Staff Writer

An action-romance in the vein of "Romancing the Stone," only not as good, "Fool's Gold" is not so much a movie as it is an experience: an experience akin to spending a couple of hours in one of those theme restaurants that hawk the laid-back beach-bum lifestyle by plying you with drinks that taste like suntan lotion. In other words, it's a big, cheesy, familiar bore. With its garland of set pieces featuring Matthew McConaughey in mortal danger strung together by beach-groovy musical hooks, "Fool's Gold" feels at times like a third-rate Bond movie set to a Jimmy Buffett album.

The shirtless, flamboyantly mulleted McConaughey stars alongside a burnished Kate Hudson as a down-and-out treasure hunter in desperate pursuit of some bygone booty. His sensible wife, Tess (Hudson), has resolved to divorce him, but he wants her back. Ben "Finn" Finnegan (McConaughey) is also getting warmer in his search for a legendary Spanish galleon said to be carrying a lost treasure known as the "Queen's Dowry," but both his former mentor and a violent gangster to whom he's deeply in hock threaten to rob him of the spoils.

What Finn needs now, aside from getting back with his brainy wife, is a generous patron who doesn't keep trying to kill him. Enter Nigel Honeycutt (Donald Sutherland), bazillionaire, sucker, pushover, who falls for Finn's oily charms after Finn rescues his dim-bulb daughter's hat when she loses it in a high-speed motorboat chase. Nigel also happens to be Tess' brand-new employer -- she's working as a steward on his yacht until she can finalize the divorce and save enough money to get back to Chicago.

Hudson is the best thing about the movie. She has a likable, grounded presence and sharp comic timing that help her pull off the historian-in-a-bikini bit pretty effortlessly. And the spark between her and McConaughey (equally sparkly in "How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days") feels real enough that when I came home I checked online for evidence of a past romance. (There hasn't been one.) But if Hudson and McConaughey look made for each other, Sutherland and Alexis Dziena, who plays his bubble-headed heiress daughter, Gemma, appear to share about as much DNA as Thurston Howell and a kumquat. Gemma makes Nicole Richie look like the stateliest of dowagers. Gemma is the product of a marriage between Honeycutt and a 24-year-old blackjack dealer from Nebraska, now long gone, but, judging by Gemma's looks and brains, she's siphoned her genes directly from mom.

While Sutherland, ludicrous in sailing whites, does a wan impersonation of a vague and aimless billionaire, Dziena tramps it up like Paris Hilton. It doesn't really matter, though. "Fool's Gold" provides an undercooked subplot about a blossoming father-daughter relationship, but Sutherland's main function in the story is to pony up the yacht and (once Tess has come to terms with Finn's coming on board) provide the financial backing for the expedition to go forward after Finn's setback with the hip-hop gangster played by Kevin Hart.

Talking Honeycutt into forking over the money requires a long and complicated disquisition on Spanish maritime history (one of many mercilessly inflicted by screenwriters John Claflin and Daniel Zelman and Andy Tennant, who also directs), which is only half as hard to follow as the plot. But once the old man, his daughter and the ship's cooks (a loving, joshing, middle-aged gay couple) are on board with the adventure -- that is, once Finn and Tess have assembled the most improbable ragtag crew imaginable -- they can finally set off for the Bahamas in search of the sunken Aurelia. Sundry as their adventures have been to this point, there are still cemetery chases, cliff's edges, scary blow-holes and unpiloted planes in their future. Anything can happen -- anything except anything remotely entertaining.

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carina.chocano@latimes.com

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MPAA rating: PG-13 for action, violence, some sexual material, brief nudity and language. Running time: 1 hour, 53 minutes. In wide release.

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