The gimmick behind “The Lost City” is a hoot, but the journey getting there sparks plenty of eye rolls.
Still, when a romance author and the cover model who sells her stories embark on a real adventure, the comic sparks fly.
It helps that stars Sandra Bullock and Channing Tatum are a perfect fit for this breezy, and borrowed, material. Think “Romancing the Stone” for the modern era.
What’s missing? We could use a bit more romance and supporting players treated better by the screenplay.
Loretta Sage (Bullock) is doing yet another book tour to promote her latest romance, but her heart isn’t in it. She’d rather be anywhere else than sharing a stage with Alan (Tatum), her Fabio-like muse who adorns her book covers.
Her frustrations are forgotten when a billionaire fan named Abigail Fairfax (a game but inexplicable Daniel Radcliffe) kidnaps her to help him find a long-lost treasure known as the Crown of Fire. Only she can decipher ancient writings to reveal its jungle location.
Do. Not. Ask. It’s one of the worst setups in recent memory on more than a few levels.
That leaves Alan to save Loretta or, better yet, his old friend who excels at these kinds of extractions. Enter Brad Pitt as Jack Trainer, the character who steals the movie so aggressively it deserves a police investigation.
It turns out Loretta may need Alan’s help, too, which is a problem since he’s only heroic on the page.
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“The Lost City” works in fits and starts, but the dull stretches can’t be blamed on its stars. Tatum’s knack for deconstructing his physical gifts, most recently seen in “DOG,” remains a joy. Bullock loves leaning into physical humor, but she rarely gets material worthy of her instincts.
That’s true here, too, but she’s shrewd enough to elevate what’s been handed to her.
Far less successful? A meandering subplot involving Loretta’s devoted manager Beth (Da’Vine Joy Randolph). Her attempts at wrangling Loretta’s ego and, later, saving her from doom bring few laughs or interesting wrinkles.
Even more obvious?
The character has woke written all over it, which is odd since given one pointed exchange between the leads:
Loretta: “I’m a woman. I can’t mansplain!”
Alan: “Yeah? Well, I’m a feminist. And I believe a woman can do anything she wants.”
That’s smart and subversive.
The film’s romantic implications are clear, and Bullock and Tatum click on screen. Yet we’re continually told Loretta is a feminist who doesn’t need saving. Fine, but she’s also a romance novelist able to tap into her female readers’ deepest desires.
Maybe there’s comic potential in that dichotomy, a buried passion to be rescued by an Alpha Male? If so, “The Lost City” has zero interest in it.
Let’s get back to Pitt, who makes an indelible impression within seconds and uses hyper action beats to make us smile. An entire film based around his character might be too much of a good thing, but he screams for more screen time here. (Just stick around through the end credits if you agree).
This is farcical material from the jump, but “The Lost City” stumbles more than once. You need zippier dialogue to keep this vehicle afloat, or action set pieces worthy of modern-day filmmaking.
Other than Pitt’s derring do, we get little of that.
The core romance never lights the fire we expect to see, sadly. Did the filmmakers want to keep that simmering in the distance, allowing us to focus on the wacky comic beats? Is it too much to ask that Bullock do the damsel in distress bit and risk cultural condemnation?
The third act attempts a romantic resolution, but the story’s heart isn’t completely in it.
That leaves a breezy jungle romp that never takes itself too seriously, framed by actors eager to make the film’s better scenes pop.
HiT or Miss: “The Lost City” is the “Romancing the Stone” for the modern era, elevated by actors who know how to conquer the uneven material.