Review: “The Lost City”

The Lost City” isn’t anything we haven’t seen before, but it is something we haven’t seen in quite a while: a big budget studio screwball comedy centering around big stars whose success hinges almost entirely on the talents of said stars. Sandra Bullock stars as Loretta Sage, a best-selling romance author who has become a recluse after the death of her archaeologist husband. At the behest of her publisher Beth (Da’Vine Joy Randolph), Loretta is finally releasing a new book in her popular Lovemore series, titled The Lost City of D, which centers around an adventurer named Dash. Forced to participate in a book tour alongside her good-intentioned but vapid Fabio-like cover model for Dash, Alan (Channing Tatum), Loretta is kidnapped from an event by eccentric millionaire Abigail Fairfax (Daniel Radcliffe), who believes that the lost city at the heart of Loretta’s novel is a real place, based on research she did alongside her husband. Abigail whisks Loretta away to a remote Atlantic island to translate part of a map to a potential treasure, but forgets that she can be tracked by her pesky smart watch—and Alan, who legitimately likes Loretta despite her coldness toward him, is in pursuit, and out of his element.

Daniel Radcliffe as Abigail Fairfax and Sandra Bullock as Loretta Sage in “The Lost City”

The actual rescuing of Loretta from Abigail’s home base ends up not actually being that complicated. The conflict stems from what happens when Loretta and Alan, both of who are ill-equipped to survive in the jungle, find themselves stranded together on the island, with Abigail and his goons in hot pursuit. Loretta, still wearing her sparkly pink jumpsuit and heels, and Alan, with his backpack full of face masks and other fairly useless supplies, are an odd couple just to look at, but Bullock and Tatum sell their characters’ incompetence with their game performances that really lean into the physical comedy. It’s been a while since Bullock (once a rom-com staple with appearances in films like “Two Weeks Notice,” “The Proposal,” and the all-timer “While You Were Sleeping”) has appeared in a comedy, and it’s been a while since Tatum (who has more than proved his comedic abilities in roles both big and small) has appeared in a movie in general (outside of last month’s new release “Dog,” “The Lost City” is the first live-action movie he’s starred in since 2017). Both more than prove that they’ve still got it. Tatum still has the well-built figure of an action movie star, but he plays it for laughs, ducking when Bullock’s Loretta tries to throw him a gun, and awkwardly dodging and slapping away bad guys. The pair also share in a lot of amusing banter, even if some of the jokes are extended for a little longer than necessary. “The Lost City” is flatly directed by Adam and Aaron Nee (and also co-wrote the screenplay), but their generic approach still works thanks to the cast. It helps that Radcliffe, who has turned out to have an aptitude for playing weirdos, is a great villain, taking his character from cool and charismatic to borderline deranged, veins practically popping in his forehead. Randolph, who can deliver a dagger-like stare when required, is hilarious as well, while Patti Harrison gets in some funny moments as Loretta’s out-of-touch social media manager. Brad Pitt, meanwhile, is delightful as Jack Trainer, a former Navy SEAL Alan met at a meditation retreat and who he recruits to help save Loretta. Where Tatum is playing the opposite of an action hero, Pitt, appearing like an extra-rugged real-life version of Dash, is playing an exaggerated version of one, and his brief but humorous appearance is just the right length to punch up a couple scenes without dominating the leads.

But while Bullock and Tatum play off each other well, they don’t exhibit the romantic chemistry necessary to sell the film’s love story angle. This is particularly crucial since an important part of the film’s message is centered around love and grief and picking yourself up and moving on. When we first meet Loretta, she is alone and still very much mourning the loss of her husband five years after he passed. Alan helps her embrace the adventure her life has been missing, and she comes to understand him a bit better in return, but despite putting them through the usual rom-com paces, the spark isn’t there. Many comparison have already been drawn between “The Lost City” and the 1984 adventure romance “Romancing the Stone,” in which Kathleen Turner plays a novelist who gets caught up in an adventure with explorer Michael Douglas. The plot in “The Lost City” has enough turns to distinguish it from that previous film, but Turner and Douglas have an undeniably charged chemistry that the movie leans in to (it might also be worth noting that both starred in erotic thrillers before and after “Romancing the Stone,” a genre that in recent years has become all but extinct). “The Lost City” just sort of forces that on Bullock and Tatum and hope it works, and while it’s passable, it’s nothing swoon-worthy. More successfully albeit subtly, the film validates the experiences of women and the enjoyment of stories centered around their pleasure, something that is still frequently criticized in the real world. This comes through nicely in a scene where Alan describes to Loretta how he was initially embarrassed to be on the cover of her books, until fans started excitedly approaching him—and how could be ever be embarrassed of participating in something that brought so much joy to people?

Brad Pitt, Sandra Bullock and Channing Tatum in “The Lost City”

“The Lost City” does have a look that is a welcome change from the bland grey computerized visuals that have dominated so many blockbusters lately, instead utilizing warm colors and that sort of phony but pleasant and pretty lighting that recalls older movies like “Romancing the Stone.” The film may start to lose some steam as it chugs toward its predictable conclusion, but it’s never not entertaining. Does that entertainment come solely from the fact that we are so starved for more movies like this? Maybe a little, but “The Lost City” still has plenty to offer audiences on its own. It may be formulaic, but it utilizes that formula to the best of its abilities.

“The Lost City” is now playing in theaters. Runtime: 112 minutes. Rated PG-13.

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