Grade: D

Andy Tennant certainly does like photographing flying things. “Fool’s Gold” begins with a “Forrest Gump”-like tour de force scene with a burning piece of paper, rather than a feather, floating about in the breeze, though in this case the complicated shot ends with an explosion. Later on there’s a flamboyant sequence involving a hat carried off by the wind. And another in which gold coins are sprayed out a blowhole. And yet another in which not only a sword vaults through the air but Matthew McConaughey is lifted out of the water by a depth charge and tossed into the heavens. And the movie concludes with a neophyte pilot trying to land a damaged plane—another big aerial set-piece.

But despite all the flying, the picture could really be called—like another one of McConaughey’s bombs—“Failure to Launch.” It’s a lumpy, leaden mixture of romantic comedy and adventure that never takes wing, an attempt at a “Romancing the Stone” meets “National Treasure” amalgam without the dumb fun of the first or the brazen energy of the latter. Indeed, each of the elements comes up short. The romance, which pairs McConaughey as a rascally treasure-hunter and Kate Hudson as his long-suffering, soon-to-be ex-wife, lacks chemistry. The comedy, much of which involves McConaughey repeatedly getting clobbered in the head, is fumbled. And the adventure, which involves the search for a sunken eighteenth-century Spanish ship off the coast of Florida, never stirs up the slightest excitement, because the whole thing manages to be both overly complicated and silly.

Also far too burdened with sub-plots and disfigured by violence that’s much too realistic for this sort of would-be fluff. The centerpiece of the script, of course, is the search for the galleon that inevitably brings squabbling husband and wife Ben and Tess Finnegan (McConaughey and Hudson) together again. But not only is it played out too slowly, but the stars seem ill-at-ease with each other (despite having previously starred together in “How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days”), and individually they don’t score either. McConaughey desperately tries to exude a raffish charm as the man-child adventurer, but comes across merely as an irresponsible twit, while Hudson—who’s supposed to be the brains of the pair—flutters about so much that she seems rather a ninny.

And surrounding them are other threads that go off like squibs in all directions. Probably the most misguided is the one involving Donald Sutherland as Tess’ millionaire employer, who lends his yacht to the search. The actor’s mannered performance would slow things to a crawl under any circumstances, but for some reason the writers have seen fit to add a deadening sub-plot about the mogul’s reconnection with his estranged daughter Gemma (Alexis Dziena), a tabloid-darling airhead anxious to be taken seriously. (Obviously the intent is to create a parallel in the Ben-Tess story, but the cost is too high.) But then there’s another featuring Ray Winstone as a rival treasure-hunter that’s so attenuated one concludes a good deal of it was edited out of the final cut. It would have been wise to expand it, though, and reduce the time devoted to the brutal ex-rapper Bigg Bunny (Kevin Hart) to whom Ben owes money, and his nasty henchmen (Malcolm-Jamal Warner, Brian Hooks and David Roberts). These fellows are obviously designed to provide the hint of menace that even a light-hearted caper demands, but here they’re played so nastily that they seem to have stepped out of a different movie. This kind of picture requires villains who are more fun than unpleasant, and in Tennant’s hands the mixture’s wrong. The bloody end of one of the thugs—another example of the director’s penchant for flying things—is especially ill-managed.

To be fair, the picture is nicely shot by Don Burgess, and the clear blue ocean waters are certainly a balm to the eye, even if George Fenton’s incessantly overbearing score irritates the ear. But pretty pictures can’t make up for a fractured script, charisma-free stars and sluggish pacing. Of course, titling a movie “Fool’s Gold” is asking for trouble in the first place. So the makers certainly deserve it when one observes that among romantic adventure flicks, this one isn’t the real deal.