The lure of Matthew McConaughey shirtless for extended stretches doubtless has some marketing value, but after that, "Fool's Gold" offers small compensation.

The lure of Matthew McConaughey shirtless for extended stretches doubtless has some marketing value, but after that, “Fool’s Gold” offers small compensation — a listless romantic comedy that, almost out of desperation, turns a little more violent than necessary near the end. Treasure hunting has certainly worked for the “National Treasure” franchise,” and an earlier McConaughey-Kate Hudson pairing enjoyed some success. Still, after however many doubloons can be hauled up from the utterly review-proof, it’s hard to envision Warner Bros. separating too many fools from their money.

Reuniting the stars of “How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days” in a more adventurous setting surely sounded promising, but in the hands of “Hitch” director Andy Tennant and his screenwriting collaborators Daniel Zelman and John Claflin, they find themselves up the proverbial creek without a paddle.

At times the pic feels like a comedic version of “The Deep,” only without the comedy. McConaughey plays treasure seeker Finn, obsessed with a Spanish galleon loaded with treasure lost off the Florida coast (as played here by Australia) in 1715. His frenzied pursuit of said riches has cost him his wife, Tess (Hudson), who is divorcing Finn for having “no clue how to behave like a responsible adult.”

It’s just then, naturally, that Finn actually finds a clue pointing toward the treasure, which he’s chasing with the patronage of a wealthy rapper-thug unfortunately named Bigg Bunny (comic Kevin Hart, put to very poor use).

Tess, meanwhile, has taken a job aboard a luxury yacht, working for the wealthy Nigel Honeycutt (Donald Sutherland, channeling Ronald Colman). After some finagling by Finn, Nigel agrees to finance an expedition for the loot mostly as a way to entertain his visiting daughter Gemma (Alexis Dziena, of ABC’s “Invasion”), a pampered heiress and complete airhead.

Aside from the central couple’s painfully flat banter and bickering, the movie’s only real recurring gag is that Finn keeps getting whacked in the head with blunt instruments — yielding wounds, not to be a stickler about continuity, that magically heal as if he were “X-Men’s” Wolverine.

Ray Winstone also pops up as a rival treasure hunter and Finn’s former mentor, but this subplot is so underdeveloped as to foster suspicions that sequences were left on the cutting-room floor — hard as that is to believe, given the sluggish pace.

When the action does pick up near the climax, it’s too late to redeem what’s already transpired and a bit grittier than it should be tonally, as if we’ve detoured into a different movie. Nor is the missing-treasure riddle intriguing enough to sustain interest, though beyond the fauna displayed, the well-shot tropical scenery might be a balm to some, coming as it does in the dead of winter.

The point, clearly, is for Finn to woo Tess back along their shared journey, but despite the script’s contrivances, there’s not much chemistry between them. Indeed, the only real energy comes from Dziena’s bubbly dim-bulb. Granted, that’s a rather tired image, but as Finn demonstrates during one skirmish with Bunny’s henchmen, a drowning man — or even just one dispatched on a “Fool’s” errand — can’t be too choosy when grasping for lifelines.

Fool's Gold

Production

A Warner Bros. release of a De Line Pictures/Bernie Goldmann production. Produced by Donald De Line, Goldmann, Jon Klane. Executive producers, Wink Mordaunt, Jim Dyer. Co-producer, Stephen Jones. Directed by Andy Tennant. Screenplay, Tennant, John Claflin, Daniel Zelman; story, Claflin, Zelman.

Crew

Camera (Technicolor, Panavision widescreen), Don Burgess; editors, Troy Takaki, Tracey Wadmore-Smith; music, George Fenton; music supervisor, Julianne Jordan; production designer, Charles Wood; supervising art director, Raymond Chan; art directors, Damien Drew, Peter Russell; set decorator, Brian Dusting; costume designer, Ngila Dickson; sound (Dolby Digital/DTS Digital/SDDS), Paul Brincat; sound designer/supervising sound editor, Richard King; co-supervising sound editor, Hamilton Sterling; visual effects supervisor, Chris Godfrey; assistant director, Toby Pease; second unit director, Alexander Witt; casting, Juel Bestrop, Seth Yanklewitz. Reviewed at Grauman's Chinese Theater, Los Angeles, Jan. 30, 2008. MPAA Rating: PG-13. Running time: 112 MIN.

With

Ben "Finn" Finnegan - Matthew McConaughey Tess - Kate Hudson Nigel Honeycutt - Donald Sutherland Gemma Honeycutt - Alexis Dziena Alfonz - Ewen Bremner Moe Fitch - Ray Winstone Bigg Bunny - Kevin Hart Cordell - Malcolm-Jamal Warner Curtis - Brian Hooks Cyrus - David Roberts

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