'Fool's Gold,' a Fool's Errand

The comedy adventure "Fool's Gold" should post a disclaimer in the lobby: No Shirt, No Shoes, No Laughs.

"Fool's Gold"-alternate title "How to Lose an Audience in Ten Minutes"- stars Matthew McConaughey, who spends virtually the entire movie shoeless and shirtless (even indoors, even at night). He's an inept treasure hunter named Finn whose boat burns and sinks while he's scuba diving. Exasperated, his wife Tess (Kate Hudson) is divorcing him.

The two have spent eight years chasing a 300-year-old sunken Spanish treasure, which they explain in a long, long scene in the middle of the movie. This complicated yet uninteresting history behind is an excellent time to go out for popcorn, or perhaps Advil.

With Finn broke and Tess forced to take a job serving food on a yacht owned by a rich guy (Donald Sutherland), Finn schemes his way aboard the pleasure boat to continue the hunt while hiding out from gangsters whom he owes $62,000.

The movie at first tries to be a frisky romantic comedy ("please laugh now" music keeps coming, pleadingly, over the soundtrack). But its idea of funny means a boat called the "Booty Calls" and the Sutherland character's ditzy daughter misspelling the word "whole" on a text message. A running gag involves many references to the supposedly hilarious name of a Caribbean gangsta - Bigg Bunny.

Gradually, the movie gives up trying for laughs and becomes a clumsy actioner: the bad guys forget they're in an inlet with a dangerous surf two minutes after ordering a hostage into it for exactly this reason. When these villains point guns at Finn, intending to kill him, they stop to chat, then get distracted when a book is thrown at them.

Despite the pages of exposition spent on trying to string together a trail of clues, the treasure hunt is so lazily sketched out that the screenplay relies heavily on dumb luck. A piece of a centuries-old dinner plate literally floats into McConaughey's grasp, and when the pair need to find an important stone, Hudson trips over it.

You won't much care whether the feuding couple find the treasure and get back together. Both of these plot points are pretty much given away with more than 30 excruciating minutes yet to go. More interesting is the question of which actor wins what must have been a bad accent contest on the set.

Malcolm Jamal Warner, the ex-Cosby kid, goes for a Caribbean lilt and is the least ridiculous of the bunch. Sutherland half-heartedly tries to sound British for no particular reason. Ewen Bremner ("Trainspotting,"), who is more or less unintelligible even when speaking in his natural cadence, a Scots word-gargle, now tries to sound Ukranian, with results that are deeply strange, while the Cockney tough guy Ray Winstone shoots for a cornpone Southern pitch that sounds closer to Birmingham, England that Birmingham, Alabama. Two gay chefs on the millionaire's yacht, meanwhile, try to get laughs by working a Noo Yawk street accent that suggests their knowledge of contemporary Gotham is derived chiefly from Bowery Boys movies.

There is a reason why people don't say, "Hey, let's go see the new Kate Hudson action movie." Watching her beat up a bunch of heavy thugs with a shovel doesn't move the needle on the credibility meter. "Are we gonna die?" she asks. Only at the box office, dear.

Still, the number of hit action movies she has starred in - zero - puts her even with McConaughey. He is fine when chilling out and kicking back in movies like "Failure to Launch," but this script's comedy is going to cause a widespread failure to laugh, and in action scenes he remains congenitally unable to convey the idea that he gives a damn. Even when he's chained to an anchor with a gun pointed at him, he looks no more perturbed than if you just told him you're out of Triple Sec.

The louder things get, the more biplanes swoosh overhead and the more harpoons and bullets fly, the more it seems that the movie is trudging through some sort of checklist of blockbuster components in lieu of a story. "Your uselessness is epic," Tess tells Finn, sounding as if she's reviewing the movie around her.

FOOL'S GOLD

Directed by Andy Tennant

Starring: Matthew McConaughey, Kate Hudson, Donald Sutherland.

0.5 stars out of 4

Running time: 111 minutes

Rated PG-13 (profanity, sexual situations, mild violence)

Kyle Smith is a film critic for the the New York Post. His website is at www.kylesmithonline.com