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Matthew McConaughey: Career Intervention

POSTED:

On the occasion of Fool's Gold, arguably the laziest and stupidest movie of Matthew McConaughey's increasingly lazy and stupid career, I'd like to raise the question: What the hell are you doing, man?

For over a decade, the only guarantee McConaughey's made to audience is that he'll be bare-chested. In Fool's Gold, McConaughey's co-star Kate Hudson keeps her shirt on, but not our boy. He makes it a pec fest. His old pal Matt Damon ragged on him on Letterman (check the clip on YouTube), mimicking McConaughey's Texas twang as he tells a director: "Today's scene I think would be a good opportunity to take my shirt off."

It's true that McConaughey looks great with his shirt off. But I can remember when people noticed his acting. Here's a few memory nudgers:

DAZED AND CONFUSED 1993
McConaughey debuts with a bang as Dave Wooderson, a twenty-something stoner still hanging with the teens. "That's what I love about high school girls," he says, "I get older, they stay the same age." Primo stuff, right down to the porn star mustache.

A TIME TO KILL 1996
The film version of John Grisham's 1989 novel put McConaughey on the map. Grisham rejected the usual star suspects (Brad Pitt, Val Kilmer, Woody Harrelson) but sparked when director Joel Schumacher brought him McConaughey, a Texas greenhorn best known as Drew Barrymore's cop loverman in Boys on the Side. Grisham was right to hold out. McConaughey, then twenty six, is dynamite in a performance of smarts, sexiness, scrappy humor and unmistakable star sizzle.

LONE STAR 1996

Working with indie pionner John Sayles, McConaughey shows style and substance as a Texas lawman, circa 1957, trying to force out a brutal, bigoted Sheriff (Kris Kristofferson) and take his job.

OK, you get my point. In the last decade, McConaughey has walked, mostly shirtless, through tired romcoms (The Wedding Planner, How To Lose a Guy in 10 Days, Failure to Launch) and paycheck adventures (U-571, Sahara). He's blown his chance with good directors, such as Steven Spielberg in Amistad and Robert Zemeckis in Contact. Two years ago, in We Are Marshall, he had a solid role as Jack Lengyel, the motivator who took over as coach of West Virginia's Marshall University football team when the players were killed in a 1970 plane crash. And what happens? He overdoes it in a performance so hammy it should have been served with pineapple.

Is all lost? You can see a bit of the old McConaughey in 2001's Thirteen Conversations About One Thing and 2002's Frailty. But they were little movies. And McConaughey is recklessly chasing the big score, at least in box-office terms. I say reckless because, as Fool's Gold proves, McConaughey is starting to look as bored in these movies as I am watching them. He's too good to be the next Paris Hilton, knowing the audience is out there saying, "Show me your titties." Look — and weep — at the titles of his next three McConaughey movies: Surfer Dude, Tropic Thunder, and The Ghosts of Girlfriends Past.

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Peter Travers

Rolling Stone senior writer Peter Travers has reviewed movies for the magazine for more than 20 years. Send your comments and questions to him here.

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