“Gold” returns to the era of “Greed is Good,” with a paunchy and balding Matthew McConaughey chasing the elusive American dream.

From director Stephen Gaghan (“Syriana”), “Gold” tells the “inspired by true events” story of a down-on-his-luck guy who literally has a whiskey-fueled dream about finding gold in the jungle of Southeast Asia. He wakes up, hocks the watch he bought his girlfriend (Bryce Dallas Howard) and buys a one-way ticket to Indonesia to make it all happen — against all odds, of course. All right. All right. All right.

McConaughey is Kenny Wells, a Nevada prospector (and possible scam artist) who hails from a long line of gold seekers, desperate for a lucky break. The movie takes place in the throes of the mid-1980s recession. Kenny loses his house and his late daddy’s (Craig T. Nelson) mining company is next. Kenny teams with a similarly motivated geologist, Mike Acosta (Edgar Ramirez), and they sign a contract on a cocktail napkin and seal the deal with a handshake. Their whirlwind adventure takes them from Jakarta to Reno to Manhattan, where the wolves of Wall Street (Corey Stoll, Bill Camp, Bruce Greenwood) prey on these “wildcatters” who are suddenly sitting on the largest gold find of the decade.

The film’s writers, Patrick Massett and John Zinman (“Lara Croft: Tomb Raider”), are clearly of the mind that dreamers are good guys, bankers are bad guys. We’ve seen that before, but despite their cliched script, “Gold” is a fun entertainment. Still, there’s a fine line between clever and conspicuous that eludes the screenwriters, who are all-too-obvious with the metaphorical meaning behind Kenny’s bird-in-flight tattoo and the red herring behind the painting of a poker-playing dog with an ace of diamonds up its paw. But McConaughey’s outsized performance forgives all that. He’s simply a blast, chewing unabashedly every inch of scenery his character can sink his nicotine-stained teeth into while delivering Southern-tinged lines such as “making the dollar hollar.” As one character puts it: “It’s like a drunk raccoon got a hold of the Hope Diamond.”

McConaughey makes like a Reno gambler and goes all in, even proudly displaying his extra 40 pounds by parading around in terrible tighty-whities. He’s hopped up and infuses the movie with much-needed pep and vigor. The energy is tempered by Ramirez’s terrific and quietly understated portrayal of the mysterious Acosta. Yin and yang.

How this all plays out is an amusing ride, even if it was done better in “American Hustle,” “The Wolf of Wall Street” and the granddaddy of all, the original “Wall Street.” “Gold” isn’t of their caliber. But McConaughey is the motherlode, proving more than worth his weight in “Gold.”

— Dana Barbuto may be reached at dbarbuto@ledger.com or follow her on Twitter @dbarbuto_Ledger.

“Gold”
Cast: Matthew McConaughey, Édgar Ramírez, Bryce Dallas Howard, Corey Stoll, Bill Camp
(R for language throughout and some sexuality/nudity.)
Grade: B