Hollywood sex symbols transforming themselves into overweight slobs has a mixed history in cinema. Robert De Niro set the template by piling on the pounds to play a washed up Jake Le Motta in Raging Bull and has been venerated for it ever since. Christian Bale copied the trick for American Hustle and was nominated for an Oscar. Jared Leto really went for it to play Mark Chapman in Chapter 27 and ended up producing one of the most unintentionally hilarious films and performances of all time. It's a risky move – and not just for your blood pressure.
Next up is Matthew McConaughey, whose sizeable gut fills what feels like every other shot of his latest film, crime adventure Gold. Director Stephen Gaghan revels in showing you that his leading man – once upon a time synonymous with six-packs and bro-ceps – has 'gone fat' to play down-on-his-luck prospector Kenny Wells who finds a gold mine in an uncharted Indonesian jungle. At one point Wells stands up naked in a Jacuzzi and audiences are treat to a clear view of a backside that looks like two bin bags found tied together out the back of a McDonalds. Chunky is not the word.
As well as the gut, McConaughey is bald, badly dressed and perpetually hungover (Wells is an alcoholic, though the real implications of this are never properly examined in the film) – more details that Gaghan's lens is distractingly obsessed with. The problem is that once you get over the difference in McConaughey's appearance – something that takes approximately sixty seconds – you're left with a film that is very much more of the same.
There has been a clear trend, in these post-recession times, for frenetic tales of boys in business - loose canons getting filthy rich by gaming the system before it all catches up with them. Scorcese's Wolf Of Wall Street was gloriously amoral. The Big Short sententious but fun. War Dogs fell short of them both. Gold is a film very much cut from the same cloth: we watch Wells and his geologist partner Michael Acosta (an inscrutable Édgar Ramírez) strike it lucky in the jungle then have their fortune wrestled from them by the corporate suits in New York.
Even at two hours long, the action zips along nicely enough – the soundtrack in particular is a great mix of original score and era-defining pop - but the problem is that there isn't a single surprise in the entire script, with even the big twist in the final third having an air of inevitability about it. Wells, of course, get drunk on success (that and constant glasses of whisky), loses sight of what really matters (his small town but big hearted girlfriend, a predictably under used Bryce Dallas Howard) and ends up – well, I'll leave that giant surprise for you.
All of which would be forgivable if, say, there was a wealth of amusing supporting characters, such as the one ironically played by McConaughey himself in Wolf of Wall Street, or if it had some of directorial flair of The Big Short. But neither is the case, meaning all the heavy-lifting is left to its big star.
Which leads us to the question that has dominated the build up to this film: is Gold going to the comeback of McConaughey's comeback? Part two of the much-discussed 'McConaissance' - that glorious stretch in 2013 when he won both an Oscar for The Dallas Buyer's Club and a place in event TV history in True Detective – that was brought to an abrupt end with two successive flops (The Sea of Trees and The Free State of Jones)?
In truth: no, it is not. McConaughey might be the most charming man on the planet and certainly one of its best actors, but even he can't make a by-numbers script into something moving or profound, however gamely he tries in the final scenes. But then nor is Gold a complete disaster. It's an enjoyable film but about as lukewarm and middling as they come: neither a career ender nor redeemer. Let's hope it's just a stepping stone on the path back to better things.