In (Modest) Defense of “Fool’s Gold”

by Michael D. Sellers

MatthewMcConnaugheyKateHudsonI’ve been aware that the critics haven’t been exactly friendly to Fool’s Gold, which according to Box Office Mojo just passed the $42M Box Office mark on this, its second weekend in release. So when my wife said she wanted to take in a movie on Sunday afternoon, it wasn’t really on my radar screen as one of the top choices. (For me, In Bruges seemed the best bet.) But she said she was “in the mood” for a light island romp, so off we went.

Now the film in question is a romantic adventure comedy that re-pairs Matthew McConaughey and Kate Hudson who last were seen together in How To Lose a Guy in Ten Days. McConaughey plays “Fin” Finnegan, a treasure hunter who, so the script tells us, can do three things: find treasure, find money for treasure hunting, and — well, the third is never stated but we’re given to understand that ol’ Matt’s a magician in the sack. Hudson plays the wife who Fin loves but can’t provide a normal life and as the story launches she’s about to divorce him, and in fact does get the divorce finalized near the end of act one just in time for the two to reunite as exes seeking a treasure that this time they just might really find. Donald Sutherland plays a British billionaire with a sexy but dum daughter (played with flair by Alexis Dziena); Ray Winstone is in there as a grizzled treasure hunter competitor, and Ewen Bremner plays Fin’s quirky Ukrainian sidekick.

So you get the picture — island charm, competing treasure hunters, Fin trying to win back Hudson and find the treasure, and Sutherland and daughter trying to find something real on the father-daughter labor in the midst of mayhem and chaos.

You know what? I’m going to disagree with the critical concensus which is exceedingly hostile to this film and I’m going to say it works pretty well on its own terms. The operative phrase is “on its own terms”. You see, I think that the first measure we should apply to a film is — did it do what it set out to do? This film clearly sets out to provie a hundred minutes or so of light, imagery-rich entertainment that at best enables the audience to escape their own drudgery into a rum-filled, aqua-blue-green universe that just has to seem inviting to anyone snowed in or simply enduring the drudgery of winter. It’s got a good, engaging pair of stars; the story has enough character ‘hook’ — both in the McConaughey/Hudson romantic storyline, and the Sutherland/Dziena father/daughter B line — to make us care . Yes, Ray Winstone’s grizzled treasure salver is a bit of a cliche, and yes, there’s a familiar “island vibe” feel to it all. But that’s part of the charm. You, the filmgoer, get to forget the grayness and spend two hours in an amiable world with characters who are pretty human and fun enough, and when it’s over you go out with a bit of a smile on your face and the feeling that your money and time were reasonably well spent.

But to read the critics — you’d never expect this. The hostility from some quarters is just overwhelming. Peter Travers at Rolling Stone gives is “no stars” and leads with: “It’s early in the year, but I defy any 2008 comedy to be as stupid, slack and sexless as Fool’s Gold.” Carina Chocano at the LA Times calls it “a big, cheesy, familiar bore. Claudia Puig at USA Today: “Fool’s Gold is a foolish enterprise if ever there was one.”

My question is this: Does a film which has obviously modest goals and simply sets out to entertain and presumably make a buck for its owners (and let’s not forget, $42+ M at the end of week two is not “flop” box office”, and the dropoff from week 1 to week 2 was only 39%, well below the 50%+ dropoff many better reviewed films are receiving) deserve to be slammed to this degree? Why not just acknowledge what it’s apparent goals seeme to be, then index it against those goals rather than against some much higher “critic’s choice” standard that this film, however well executed, could never be reasonably expected to attain?

Anyway — my bottom line: If you don’t have time to actually go spend some time in the Bahamas and Florida Keys, and if you can check your critics choice expectations at the door, you could do worse than taking in this film.

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~ by Michael Sellers on February 18, 2008.

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