Glamorous adventure-comedy throwback ‘The Lost City’ loses steam
Splashy studio rom-coms are back! Or at least the funny bits are, as the emotionally underwhelming but deliciously silly Sandra Bullock vehicle The Lost City proves with the kind of studio luster that comes with big stars, exotic locations, proudly overblown special effects, and a healthy lack of self-seriousness.
Too bad the studio’s marketing mohels clipped off the tip of film’s original title, The Lost City of D, even though it’s the name of the romance novel that drives the film’s plot. “It’s D for dick, right?’ says a randy Q&A moderator played by SNL mvp Bowen Yang. Absolutely! More D, please!
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THE LOST CITY ★★★ (3/5 stars)
Directed by: Adam and Aaron Nee
Written by: Oren Uziel, Dana Fox, Adam Nee, Aaron Nee
Starring: Sandra Bullock, Channing Tatum, Daniel Radcliffe, Da’Vine Joy Randolph, Brad Pitt
Running time: 112 mins
This $75 million vamp on Romancing the Stone casts the sassy-sweet Oscar-winner as jaded scribe Loretta Sage, author of a wildly popular series of lady-fantasy adventures starring Angela Lovemore and her generously maned paramour, shiny long-haired Dash McMahon. Only problem is that she’s sick of her hack success. Not so Alan Caprison (Channing Tatum), the widely celebrated personification of Dash ever since Loretta’s publisher made him the cover-model Fabio for all of her books.
She’s full of contempt for the golden-goose softcore smut that provides her posh life, and especially for thick-as-a-brick Alan, who talks about Dash with unearned authority while secretly crushing on Loretta. “She opens her mouth and an encyclopedia of beautifulness comes out,” he whines with intellectual impotence. Quick backstory: Loretta’s archeologist husband died years ago, which means that her jaded sense of love—and muted vulnerability—are only rivaled by her impressive amateur skills in ancient anthropology.
All that’s missing is a damsel-in-distress situation so Alan can prove his worth. Luckily, nefarious billionaire scion and Lovemore superfan Abigail Fox (Daniel Radcliffe) serves one up when he kidnaps Loretta to help him find legendary treasures from the real-life City of D. Turns out his secret team of minions have unearthed it on the small Atlantic island called Isla Hundida, home to ancient ruins along with an active volcano that threatens them all.
Loretta, book-promotion-ready in a sequined magenta jumpsuit, isn’t equipped for rugged escapades; and neither is Alan, who literally calls in a favor by phoning ex-SEAL Team mercenary Jack Trainer (Brad Pitt). Jack’s a preposterously impeccable operative, Alan is all thumbs, and between the two of them they snatch Loretta from Abigail’s clutches long enough to start looking for that ancient wealth themselves.
The Lost City is at its best during its initial over-the-top set-up and Jack’s mock-perfect extraction mission. Once Brad Pitt’s work is done, and his mega-wattage extended cameo wraps up, the film’s giddy-romp momentum palpably slows. Loretta’s sourpuss smarts clash genially with Alan’s good-hearted bumbling, but sparks hardly fly despite all the awkward jungle-survival peril. Even the flesh-baring sight of Tatum’s bare butt covered in leeches wears thin after its initial gag-worthy sight gag.
The film’s peripheral talent, potential secret weapons in better filmmaking hands, just become threadbare during the mayhem. Da’Vine Joy Randolph plays Loretta’s no-nonsense publisher, a glib hoot at the outset who devolves into a forgettable back-up rescuer. Radcliffe, a height-challenged celeb always game to counter-program his Harry Potter stereotyping, even sports facial hair here to distract from his youthful charms, but doesn’t fare much better. His maniacal villain starts out as a goofball sociopath but ends up just being a bloodthirsty bantamweight jerk despite spurring one of the film’s most gleeful asides: “I thought he was a little boy, but he’s got a full beard!”
Spolier alert: dim bulb Alan wins over Loretta with his dogged persistence and affable golden-retriever loyalty, while the flinty author rediscovers love and creative inspiration along the way. It’s all very predetermined in very predictable ways, with a ludicrous third-act climax that drains the film of its initially disarming surprise. The Lost City works hard at earning laughs, but trades love-connection intimacy for vapid spectacle. What starts out as a charming lark slowly becomes a bit of a bore.