The Lost City
Sandra Bullock and Channing Tatum's combined charms go a long way in this breezily entertaining action-adventure rom-com.
April 11, 2022
Sometimes, they do still make 'em like they used to: action-adventure rom-coms in this case. Drive a DeLorean back to 1984, to the year before Robert Zemeckis made DeLoreans one of the most famous types of movie cars ever, and the director's Romancing the Stone did huge box-office business — and it's that hit that The Lost City keenly tries to emulate. This new Sandra Bullock- and Channing Tatum-starring romp doesn't hide that aim for a second, and even uses the same broad overall setup. Once again, a lonely romance novelist is swept up in a chaotic adventure involving treasure, a jungle-hopping jaunt and a stint of kidnapping, aka exactly what she writes about in her best-selling books. The one big change: the writer is held hostage, rather than her sister. But if you've seen Romancing the Stone, you know what you're in for.
Movies that blandly and generically recreate/riff on/rip off others will never be gleaming cinematic jewels; the good news is that The Lost City is neither dull nor dispiritingly derivative. Cinema has literally been there and done this before, but directors Aaron and Adam Nee (Band of Robbers) are gleefully aware of that fact and don't even pretend to pretend otherwise. Rather, they wink, nod, serve up a knowing tribute to the 80s fare they're following, and repeatedly make it as blatant as can be that everything they're doing is by design. Their tone is light, bouncy and breezy. Their cast, which also spans Daniel Radcliffe and a delightfully scene-stealing Brad Pitt, is always on that wavelength. Indeed, swap out the vibe or The Lost City's four biggest on-screen names and the film would fall apart, especially without Bullock and Tatum's charisma and chemistry. With them all, it remains by the numbers but also terrifically likeable.
As penned by the Nees, Oren Uziel (Mortal Kombat) and Dana Fox (Cruella) — based on a story by Baywatch director Seth Gordon — The Lost City's plot is ridiculously easy to spot. Also, it's often flat-out ridiculous. Anyone who has ever seen any kind of flick along the same lines, such as Jungle Cruise most recently, will quickly see that Loretta Sage (Bullock, The Unforgivable), this movie's protagonist, could've penned it herself. Once she finds herself living this type of narrative, that truth isn't lost on her, either. First, though, she's five years into a grief-stricken reclusive spell, and is only out in the world promoting her new release because her publisher Beth (Da'Vine Joy Randolph, The United States vs Billie Holiday) forces her to. She's also far from happy at being stuck once again with the man who has been sharing her limelight over the years, Fabio-style model Alan (Tatum, Dog), who has graced her book's covers and had women falling over themselves to lust-read their pages.
Loretta is hardly thrilled about the whole spectacle that becomes her latest Q&A as a result, and that makes her a distracted easy mark for billionaire Abigail Fairfax (Daniel Radcliffe, Guns Akimbo) afterwards. He's noticed her new work, spotted similarities to the ancient riches he's chasing IRL, and gets his underlings to swoop in and snatch her up. His plan: leaning on Loretta's past as a serious historian to help him find his holy grail on a remote Atlantic island. She's given zero choice, but once the puppy dog-like Alan notices she's missing, he calls in expert assistance from devilishly suave and competent mercenary Jack Trainer (Pitt, Ad Astra). Of course, it doesn't take long for Loretta and Alan to be fleeing as an odd-couple duo, attempting to find the treasure, and endeavouring to avoid Abigail and his minions — and stay alive, obviously.
'Obviously' is a word that could be thrown at almost everything that occurs in The Lost City, but there's a gaping difference between being drably dutiful to a well-worn setup and having as much fun as possible with recognisable parts. Case in point: how Radcliffe enthusiastically hams it up in a part that's a simple next step from his TV work on Miracle Workers, but is always a joy to watch. See also: how the movie uses the long-locked Pitt, who clearly enjoys toying and parodying his own image, and is even introduced on the phone, unseen but audibly eating — which immediately deserves its place in the supercuts dedicated to his fondness for acting and noshing. And, another example: the liveliness that accompanies Pitt's big rescue scene, which is equally exciting and amusing. All of this epitomises The Lost City at its best. Well, that and the rapport between Bullock and Tatum. They're game for their tasks, which largely rely upon their familiar on-screen personas — she's sharp, he's a himbo, that contrast sparks screwball banter aplenty — and yet they shine as brightly as any long-lost gems.
Also welcome: the fact that the age gap between The Lost City's key couple skews Bullock's way — she's 16 years Tatum's senior — and isn't turned into a big deal. Neither is the idea that a middle-aged writer could be attractive, or that wearing glasses, not always caring about your appearance and being smart don't instantly stop the same outcome. Having a 50-something female lead, treating her like an actual human, letting her intelligence and warmth be her defining traits: these shouldn't all feel as revolutionary as they do, but they're as dazzling as the pink sequinned jumpsuit that Bullock spends much of the movie traipsing around the jungle wearing. The Lost City knows that whole setup is ludicrous, too, in a film that unpacks the cliches that've always come with its chosen genre, updates its tropes for 2022 and still embraces goofy escapism.
Bullock is comfortable in her role because she's played brainy rom-com women before; The Proposal and Miss Congeniality quickly come to mind. As for The Lost City itself, it's comfortable all-round because Bullock is its anchor — even with the joyously self-aware Tatum and Pitt, and the eagerly entertaining Radcliffe, always proving just as engaging to watch. Viewers can forgive the Nee brothers, then, for stretching the film out longer than the material genuinely supports. You can excuse the flabby spots because they're rarely flat as well, and because something new and silly tends to pop up seconds later. The movie a little too bluntly advocates for its own modest pleasures, courtesy of a speech by Alan about learning not to be embarrassed about modelling for Loretta's books, but it really didn't need to: Hollywood should still make thoroughly predictable yet still well-executed and gleaming-enough fare like this, and more often.