A waterlogged Caribbean caper
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Published 6:30 am, Friday, February 8, 2008
The sacred rules of journalism dictate that articles should lead with the biggest news, and, sorry, that isn't Matthew McConaughey minus his clothes. Chronic beach-side shirtlessness is already too much a facet of his public image for Fool's Gold to shock or titillate, or whatever it's meant to do. You might even forget you're watching a movie and think you're having flashbacks to Us Weekly.
But bare feet - well, that's news. He spends approximately 69 minutes of the film's 113 unshod, a fact I can report with confidence after sheer restlessness drove me to clock his feet or die of boredom. Or maybe it was despair. Hard to tell. Having sprained my eyesight and my good will trying to see the funny in this waterlogged Caribbean caper, I resolved to time and analyze (for lack of a better word) the protoganist's shoelessness against a backdrop of startlingly inane filmmaking clichés. For the purpose of my study, I counted diving flippers as barefoot; call it a rule of toe.
In Fool's Gold McConaughey plays Ben ``Finn'' Finnegan, a purportedly charming screwup who hunts for sunken treasure in the Bahamas while giving off the unseemly whiff of a thirtysomething Narcissus in search of a life. When we meet him he's diving off the shore of Topsail Cay, where he and his bizarre Ukrainian sidekick (Ewen Bremner) discover a chunk of dinner plate bearing remnants of the crest of Vangor. And he's elated, because Vangor is a clue in his search for the Queen's Dowry, a legendary stash of gold and bling that sailed into a hurricane in 1715, never to be seen again.
What, pray tell, is Vangor? Why, the key to the entire movie, that's what. I could try to explain it to you, but then I'd have to kill you, because you would comprehend in an instant just how little I understood of the plot. After a few reels of hearing characters spout Weird Lost Factoids of History (alternated with bursts of ``Oh my GOD!!''), I started to get that queasy, sheepish, National Treasure-y feeling of being the stupidest kid in the room. Which is saying something, considering the vast tonnage of ignorance on display here.
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Finn's feet are bare when he finds the shard. They're bare when he pads into the den of an imbecilic gangsta rapper named, not kidding, Bigg Bunny (Kevin Hart), who's peeved about $62,581.43 that Finn still owes him. They're bare when Bigg Bunny's dull-witted Stepin Fetchit henchmen try to drown him off the Cay. (Can we please retire that oafish racial stereotype? Please?) They're bare when Finn, not dead, bolts to a conference rubber-stamping his divorce from sometime-wife Tess (Kate Hudson) in the hopes he might persuade her otherwise. But the divorce is finalized. And he's barefoot when she whacks him with a cane.
Fool's Gold boasts two real attractions: the sun-kissed blues and greens of Don Burgess's gleaming cinematography, which was actually shot in mostly Australia; and Hudson. She is, it turns out, worth watching in almost anything, her sparkly acumen giving some much-needed pop to her scenes with McConaughey. Director Andy Tennant aims once more for that love-hate vibe he milked in Sweet Home Alabama, but he and his screenwriting partners (John Claflin and Daniel Zelman) labored under the collective delusion that they could revamp a classic screwball scenario (say, The Awful Truth) with flabby humor and birdbrain characters substituting for madcap wit.
Some of these characters, like the wealthy heiress played by Alexis Dziena, are supposed to be dense. Others, like her elegant and world-weary father, are supposed to be wise. And normally Donald Sutherland does convey a prickly brand of wisdom.
But sporting a cravat and a bogus English accent (``Hello, daahhling!''), he conveys only profound discomfort in the presence of boobs. Even when they're not barefoot.