Remember back in the '80s when the lines between comedy, romance and action movies were all a bit fuzzier than they are now? Yeah, those days were great. Anyway, the '00s are not the '80s, and what worked in a movie 20 or 25 years ago just comes across as dissonant and unpleasant. What I mean specifically is that Fool's Gold proves that you can't put violent death in a romantic comedy and expect that it won't completely fuck up the mood.

This thought came upon me unfortunately early in the film: we've only just barely been introduced to the concept, which is that Matthew McConaughey is playing Ben "Finn" Finnegan, a treasure hunter stationed in the Florida Keys, and Kate Hudson plays his estranged wife Tess, and Finn has just managed to royally piss off local rap billionaire/gangster Bigg Bunny (Kevin Hart), who retaliates by sending Finn with some goons out to sea, where they're going to drown him. On the day he's supposed to be divorcing Tess! (That's the wacky romantic comedy bit, right there). All well, all good, and as Finn is escaping from the goons, he shoots one in the ear, and one through the foot. This is shown in rather prideful detail: no close-ups, but for close to a minute it seems like every shot shows the top of the blown-out foot, oozing red. I recall thinking that this image was probably not well-geared towards the viewers that just came in looking for How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days, Part 2.

By the end of the movie, enough violence has been done that I'm not sure I'd have remembered something so jejune as a gunshot wound if it hadn't have been the first. A nose is split open with a cricket bat, a man is shot unexpectedly at (PG-13) point blank range, a man gets his head cracked open with a rock, and in the undeniably peak of the film's bloodlust, a man essentially explodes when he's driven into sharp rocks by geysering water. Going to make for some very awkward date nights.

Subverting the audience's expectations by playing with a movie star's persona is a trick almost as old as movie stardom - "Garbo Laughs" would never have sold tickets if people didn't think that Garbo laughing was essentially impossible. But that's a far cry from re-teaming the pair at the center of the aforementioned How to Lose a Guy, a reasonable box-office success back in 2003 and a surprisingly sweet and effective urban romantic comedy, marketing the subsequent film as above all things the re-teaming of that pair, and then releasing it to theaters six days before Valentine's Day. That's really just looking for tears, is all that is.

It now occurs to me, that I have so far written over 400 words that cumulatively imply that Fool's Gold has but one significant problem, and this is that it's too violent for it's target audience. That's a terrifically irresponsible thing to say. Fool's Gold is a bad movie, bad in almost every respect, bad as adventure and bad as romance and bad as comedy. It's really completely bad.

There's no end of right ways to complain about the film, but it wouldn't do to forget about the script, one of the purest examples in modern vintage of how to do everything wrong. It's credited to John Claflin & Daniel Zelman and Andy Tennant, story by Claflin & Zelman, and that angry little ampersand tells the experienced viewer everything he or she needs to know. The ampersand, you see, is the WGA's way of showing that a script was written by two or more people together, while the word "and" means basically that one person came in to jigger an extant draft. Since Claflin & Zelman last wrote Anacondas: The Hunt for the Blood Orchid, where director Tennant last worked on Hitch, it's probably not too hard to figure out who was responsible for which part of the story.

But that's just run of the mill identity crisis stuff. Lots of movies run aground against that. On top of that, Fool's Gold has a seemingly endless parade of characters with little to no reason for existing, exposition laid on thick and heavy and with terrible repetition, plot points that show up once and are never heard from again, and a textbook example of that hoary old line about third act problems. In this case, the third act begins when a character who has no reason not to hate Finn and Tess agrees without hesitation or haggling to help them out of a scrape, and it proceeds to get more arbitrary from there on out.

Oh! the script is such a mess. The bubble-head Paris Hilton clone Gemma Honeycutt (Alexis Dziena), whose primary role is to enable a complete unnecessary father-daughter bonding story with the wealthy Nigel Honeycutt (Donald Sutherland); why are there so many heavy-handed intimations that she's got the hots for Finn if the script is just going to abandon them the instant that he starts to reconnect with Tess? The pair of middle-aged gay chefs: could they have not had some characterisation beyond being gay? Enough at least so I could remember their names?

My favorite bit about the script, though - and then I'll shut up about it - is the opening scroll. We're told about a ship lost in 1715, carrying an unfathomable fortune in jewels from the New World to Spain, and so on and so forth, and the whole time I was wondering, "Why couldn't a character just say all of this to another character? That would permit the film to be a little bit cagey about what's going on, what these characters are looking for, and it would be a nice first-act surprise when we find out." Sure enough, about 12 minutes later - after what might have been some intriguingly mysterious banter about lost ships, had we not known exactly what they were talking about - Finn retells pretty much every last detail of that scroll. Meaning one of two things: the filmmakers assume we're goddamn idiots, or the test screenings were full of goddamn idiots who couldn't figure out the plot for the first quarter-hour.

So that's the script. The directing I will leave to twist in the wind on its own excesses and over-reliance on stale musical cues. But the acting, that I must pick at a bit, if just for the meanness of it. The worst performance, in terms of how unenjoyable it is and how awkward the performer seems onscreen, is surely Dziena as Gemma, playing for the cheap seats like a rabid animal. On the other hand, she is also stuck with the least-playable role in the film, all vapid sexuality and stereotypes about rich people. Sutherland comes up fairly close behind her, as does Ewen Bremner as Finn's Ukrainian sidekick (described in exactly those words, in a line that I hope simply never made it past the "search + replace" phase of screenwriting), both for the same reasons: incredibly, epically ill-advised accents. By comparison, the oft-lazy McConaughey doesn't seem terribly bad (though he lets his absdo most of his acting), nor does Hudson: they aren't good, nor do they have nearly the same kind of chemistry they had in their last outing. But it doesn't hurt to watch them, and that's not true of several of their co-stars.

When the film first got going, I assumed it was just going to be bland and personality-deficient, and I was sort of right, but that blandness is pretty aggressive, achieved through a daisy chain of incredibly horrible decisions. In a better world, Fool's Gold might have been a great bad movie; as it is, it's just extremely misguided and misjudged, despite the obvious fact that it was carefully designed to be as innocuous and marketable as possible. I feel kind of bad that the filmmakers couldn't even manage to make a bland commodity without screwing up.