Why ‘Gold’ Is a 24 Karat Vanity Project

Hollywood has a long tradition of making its most beautiful stars downright ugly.

It worked for Charlize Theron. Her transformation into a killer for 2003’s “Monster” earned her an Academy Award. She had a good reason for the makeover, though. The real woman she portrayed hardly looked like the South African beauty.

Matthew McConaughey doesn’t have that excuse. People Magazine’s 2005 “Sexiest Man Alive” loses his hair, and his six pack abs, to play a man who strikes it rich in “Gold.”

It’s ever so loosely based on a true tale, but the gold digger in question had a full head of hair. So why did McConaughey go bald for the new drama?

Beats us.

What follows hardly merits the actor’s startling transformation. It’s the screenplay that needs a nip and tuck. Maybe much more.

McConaughey stars as Kenny Wells, a prospector hunting for the next big score. It doesn’t happen overnight, despite his can-do spirit and a girlfriend (Bryce Dallas Howard) brimming with optimism.

Kenny strikes up a professional friendship with a geologist (Edgar Ramirez, “Hands of Stone”) who thinks they can find what they’re looking for in the jungles of Indonesia.

He’s right. If only that were the answer to all of their dreams.

FAST FACT: Matthew McConaughey turned to pizza to help him gain 47 pounds for “Gold.”

“Gold” gives McConaughey the kind of role he’s been taking far too quickly these days. Larger than life. Bursting with “Oscar” scenes. In short, he’s gone from the guy who loses his shirts in rom-coms to the guy begging for awards season love.

Nothing doing here.

Who is Kenny Wells anyway? Is he a jerk with rampaging ambition? A sad sack who got lucky? A loyal capitalist taken advantage of by others’ greed?

It’s never quite clear. And that’s a massive problem for a movie built around the portly main character.

Gold Movie CLIP - Tiger (2017) - Matthew McConaughey Movie

What’s disappointing is how much meaty material sits before us. Greed, envy, market manipulations, romance … it’s almost impossible not to mine something good out of it.

“Gold” pulls it off all the same.

The bond between McConaughey and Ramirez threatens to draw us in, but like everything else here it’s undercooked. So is Kenny’s relationship with Howard’s character. It follows an all-too typical arc, as if ripped off from a screenplay template. We’re left waiting for Howard to play emotional notes worthy of her.

“Gold” could have made better use of Craig T. Nelson, cast as Kenny’s salt of the earth father. Perhaps getting to know some of the miners who sacrificed so much for Mills’ team would have given texture to the tale.

Yet McConaughey sells every scene like “Dallas Buyers Club” never happened. He’s fully invested in Kenny, bringing every ounce of his rediscovered fame to the role. It ensures “Gold” is never dull, not with the actor poring his soul into every frame. The performance begs for better material.

RELATED: HiT Review: McConaughey’s ‘Free State of Jones”

Director Stephen Gaghan (“Syriana”) takes tremendous liberties with tale that inspired it, including moving the action from the ’90s to the ’80s. Why? Perhaps it’s a subtle slam on the Reagan era, but the lessons about human nature could apply to any decade.

The film’s waning moments pack one of those cutesy, “only in a Hollywood movie” moments that make the entire enterprise feel false.

HiT or Miss: “Gold” gives Matthew McConaughey some scenery chewing morsels, but the rest of the story siimply doesn’t live up to the true story’s roots.

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