Tag Archives: D

FOOL’S GOLD

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.

RAMBO

Sylvester Stallone had considerable success going to the nostalgia well last year with “Rocky Balboa,” the sixth installment of the series that began in 1976, and he’s trying the same trick with “Rambo,” the fourth in the series that started in 1982 and had previously ended with “Rambo III” in 1988. It’s possible that boomers who look back on the first three movies with affection will come out for this resurrection of the character, but if they do they’re likely to be astonished as how gory and graphic the new version is. The original Rambo movie was actually titled “First Blood” (after the David Morrell novel on which it was based). This one should be called “Entirely Too Much Blood.”

The plot devised by Stallone closely follows the template of parts 2 and 3, involving the laconic hunk in a rescue operation—this time of a group of missionaries and doctors whom he’d reluctantly ferried in a decrepit boat from his Thai home into Myanmar (insistently called Burma here) so that they could minister to Karen rebel communities, but who’ve been captured by brutal, bloodthirsty government troops. Rambo, whose sense of duty has been reawakened by the female member of the group—Sarah, played by Julie Benz—leads a group of mercenaries hired by their church (!) to save the captives and bring them home. In doing so he and his comrades (though mostly he) wipe out the entire complement of soldiers from the camp in which they’re being held—including of course the vicious commandant (who’s also, we’re shown, a pervert who does it with young men!)—first by invading the compound and then in a tumultuous fire-fight at the river’s shore.

In terms of the look and feel of “Rambo,” what it mostly calls to mind are the chintzy Cannon action flicks of the eighties that usually involved (as “Rambo II” did) missions to free POWs from prisons in Southeast Asia. It has the same grubby look (the cinematography is by Glen McPherson) they did. But they were nowhere near as violent as this. There are probably more exploding bodies, guttings, dismemberments and decapitations in this movie than in any other ninety minutes committed to celluloid. The last thirty minutes or so are pretty much wall-to-wall mayhem, and mayhem of the most gruesome sort. It’s staged in ways that blur the carnage, but the result is still pretty stomach-churning. Yet, as Brian Tyler’s trumpet-laden music insistently suggests, we’re supposed to cheer over it, because the villains are so uncompromisingly horrid, not only mowing down women and children without the slightest scruple but using prisoners in their demented games involving chases through swamps littered with land mines. We’re also supposed to feel a sense of relief when the piously priggish and pacifistic missionary Michael (Paul Schulze), who’s been disgusted by Rambo’s cynical attitude and horrified when he wipes out a bunch of pirates who threaten to have their way with Sarah, finally feel righteous indignation during the final combat and batters one of the brutish soldiers to death with a rock. He finally saw the light, you see.

The transformation of that fellow is pretty much emblematic of the depth of characterization that Stallone’s written into the script. All the figures are one-note affairs; some are just given more screen time than others. So Benz plays Julie without shading as a principled damsel-in-distress, and Schulze Michael as the unrealistic do-gooder who eventually learns you can’t keep turning the other cheek. Each of the mercenaries has his particular shtick, too; so Matthew Marsden is School Boy, the gangly boy-next-door sharpshooter with a decent vocabulary and some honest principle, while Graham McTavish is the foul-mouthed, arrogant Brit who drips with contempt for “boatman” Rambo until the latter shows up unexpectedly at the site of a massacre to dispatch a whole squad of nasty soldiers with his trusty bow-and-arrow. None of the supporting actors distinguish themselves—not even Ken Howard, who pops up briefly as the Colorado pastor from whose church the waylaid missionaries came, and who looks a lot less happy with his assignment than he did as the supercilious corporate lawyer in “Michael Clayton.” But then Stallone doesn’t ask for any layers from his co-stars, either in his writing or in his directing; this is very straightforward, simple-minded action stuff, unencumbered by any thought or doubt—black-and-white at its most extreme (though there’s plenty of red).

As for Stallone the actor, at over sixty he certainly looks pumped up. Excessively so, in fact—his torso, with its bulging muscles, has an unnaturally bulbous appearance (the result, no doubt, solely of long exercise). But in terms of performance, there’s not much to be said. He grunts out his few lines, many of them aimed at provoking a chuckle, in his typical growly style, and shoots out knowing, dismissive stares at those around him with the superior air of a man who can rip out your throat without breaking a sweat (indeed, he does that to a Burmese officer at one point). But frankly the Ultimate Soldier routine gets pretty tiresome after awhile, especially since it’s supposed to be tinged with an air of resignation over the wickedness of the world and, at the end, one of redemption as well (the final pre-credit “coming home” sequence even wants to engender a lump in your throat, but fails).

You have to credit Sylvester Stallone with resuscitating what appeared to be a permanently moribund career by taking his “greatest hits” out of mothballs. But now that Rocky and Rambo are out of the way, could we please have the sequels we really need from him—an “Oscar II” or “Rhinestoner,” or “Stop! or My Mom Will Shoot Again” or—my special favorite—“Even Further Over the Top”? We haven’t had a really good arm wrestling movie in decades. And if “Rambo” is any indication, this time around Lincoln Hawk could actually rip his opponents’ arms out of their sockets and wave them around while blood spurted from the stumps. While we cheer, of course.