It says in the opening credits of “Gold” that the film is inspired by true events and, at the very least, it’s inspired by director Stephen Gaghan’s desire to see Matthew McConaughey act a fool for a couple hours. The manner of the esteemed actor’s character, Kenny Wells, is described thusly: “It’s like a drunk raccoon got a hold of the Hope Diamond.” And McConaughey performs to that metaphor, but with worse hair and more perspiration.
In the beginning, Kenny appears to be only the “drunk raccoon” half of the simile. He is coached by his prospector father (Craig T. Nelson) for a while, but when he’s left to run Washoe Mining Company himself, the business takes a nose dive. Instead of a top-floor suite, the boys (and all the employees seem to be boys) take up offices in the leatherette booths of a bar in ’80s-era Reno and cold call gold excavation financiers between shots of Seagram’s.
Their fearless leader promises to “Make the dolla holla,” but he’s out of ideas until he has a dream (literally) of finding gold in Indonesia with an old geologist chum, Mike Acosta (Édgar Ramírez). Kenny flies to Jakarta and Mr. Acosta proves himself to be a rock savant, just as in Kenny’s wildest imaginings – they are quickly partners, exploiting gullible investors and indigenous labor. But a major weakness in the film is Ramírez’s bizarre, aloof performance – his primary activity is staring into the distance, perhaps at a better film somewhere in the haze.
That leaves “Gold” entirely to McConaughey, whose character shares some of the snake-oiled charm of his stripper impresario Dallas in “Magic Mike,” though his six pack abs in that film are swapped for an imposing beer belly here. His Pabst Blue Ribbon and whiskey diet results in a gut that overhangs white briefs (an undergarment shown in this film with remarkable frequency). Whoever the sweat artist was in “Gold,” they couldn’t have been compensated enough for making McConaughey so damp in every shot.
As one expects in the mining business, Mike and Kenny go through many boom and bust cycles in their partnership. Kenny is malarially delirious in the Indonesian jungle one moment then, after a huge gold deposit is discovered, he’s suddenly in the pink-golf-shirt-and-humping-in-helicopters phase of life. Next he’s turning down a $300-million buyout of his company with a hubristic pride that soon has him waking up on hot Nevada asphalt with cigarette ash on the lapels of an ill-fitting suit. Kenny is always grooming himself for his cover model spread on Gold Digger magazine, while his partner Mike seems to eye a different prize.
Watching all these fluctuations is Kenny’s main squeeze Kay, but Bryce Dallas Howard has little to do besides pose in the coiffed and frozen manner of a Reba McIntyre album cover. Perhaps her bemusement is from absorbing the brunt of McConaughey’s id – he performs a self-indulgent role that basically does not exist for women in Hollywood.
For a film that wants to feel wild and crazy but never once threatens to go over the rails, it does take a hard lefthand turn at the end. But the twist doesn’t change the fact that “Gold” is mostly as tedious as watching drunk men ramble at the bar, repeating the same cliché: “The last card you turn over is the only one that matters.” These flailing salesmen aren’t unlike fringe actors – toasting in triumph or despair in depressing watering holes, waiting for a lucky break that they can call their destiny.
‘Gold’ is showing at the Sonoma 9 Cinemas. Rated R. Running time 2:01. Visit cinemawest.com.