It’s not that The Lost City is particularly original, but in a landscape saturated with familiar IPs, it does feel like a breath of fresh air. Success usually follows when you put a winning trifecta to use as well. The deadpan snark of Sandra Bullock, the hunky and unpretentious Channing Tatum, and the colorful, cartoony atmosphere effectively steamroll over your cynicism.
Drawing on Romancing the Stone, the film revolves around romance novelist Loretta Sage (Sandra Bullock), who has become a recluse following the death of her husband. At the insistence of her publisher, Beth (Da’Vine Joy Randolph), Loretta pens another novel just in time for a predetermined book tour alongside her cover model, Alan (Channing Tatum). Alan plays the fictional character Dash in Loretta’s novels, and the adoring fans of his six pack and hulking physique have given him a cult following as well. Uncomfortably dressed in a tight, sequined fuchsia onesie, Loretta goes along with the book tour with many misgivings.
She finds even more once she’s kidnapped by a couple of goons, who take her to a billionaire named Fairfax (Daniel Radcliffe). Fairfax is convinced that Loretta can help him decipher an ancient piece of parchment that will lead him to the lost city on which her recent novel is based. When Loretta declines, she’s forced on a private jet and flown deep into the recesses of an island jungle. Alan enlists in the help of a mercenary named Jack Trainer (Brad Pitt) while Beth tracks Loretta on her Apple Watch.
Desiring more than just being a pretty face on the white horse of many airport and department store paperbacks, Alan tags along on the overseas trip. They’re able to rescue Loretta, but not able to get to the airport before trouble strikes. This renders both an author and her cover model stuck in the jungle with few resources.
Like most second-tier blockbusters, the cast has to do some extra legwork to iron out occasionally brutal dialog and situational comedy. That scene from the trailer involving Loretta pulling leeches off Alan’s ass is no funnier in the movie than it was having to watch it before movies over the last three months. There’s also no particular reason Loretta has to wear that aforementioned sequined onesie other than the purpose of slapstick. Loretta’s social media manager is the least amusing character, although it’s less Patti Harrison’s fault and more the fact that the four writers (including directors Aaron and Adam Nee) give her very little to do.
Getting past those hangups is easier than it sounds, thanks to the strengths of the cast. Bullock plays the kind of character at which the real-life Sandra Bullock would roll her eyes; at least that’s how we perceive her. Bullock has never struck us as the type of person to believe in true love, let alone be the author of romance novels. That said, Bullock works because she puts her own breed of skepticism and playful one-upping into Loretta. She’s also a shameless grammar nerd, but not an insufferable one. Moreso the type to vocalize a page of a book as it’s happening.
Her and Tatum — playing a Fabio-clone while still having a big heart and room for depth — are fun to watch as they lose themselves in the towering trees and dangerous paths of a jungle. Radcliffe, working against type to his own credit, functions well as the smarmy antagonist, while Randolph is, blessed so, not a simple stereotype. Instead, she’s a sweet, if forceful friend of Loretta’s. Her subplot gets good when she’s given a plus one in Oscar Nuñez, an eccentric cargo plane pilot.
It’s feels weird to save Brad Pitt for last, but he’s not in the film for very long. He sports a Joe Exotic hairdo, does acrobatic fight choreography all around Fairfax’s jungle-based headquarters (while Nick Cave’s “Red Right Hand” plays), and then his time abruptly expires.
After last weekend saw the erotic thriller genre take a faint breath for the first time in years with Deep Water, it might come off as redundant to say that The Lost City helps revive another one all together. Adventure-romance movies have been almost nonexistent as of late despite their inherent likability. From seeing rare, remote locations to balancing danger, a love story, and a deft sense of humor, they’re crowd-pleasers in the broadest sense. The Nee brothers are thankfully not here to cash-in with cheap, imitative fodder.
NOTE: The Lost City is now playing exclusively in theaters.
Starring: Sandra Bullock, Channing Tatum, Daniel Radcliffe, Da’Vine Joy Randolph, Oscar Nuñez, Patti Harrison, and Brad Pitt. Directed by: Aaron and Adam Nee.
Steve Pulaski has been reviewing movies since 2009 for a barrage of different outlets. He graduated North Central College in 2018 and currently works as an on-air radio personality. He also hosts a weekly movie podcast called "Sleepless with Steve," dedicated to film and the film industry, on his YouTube channel. In addition to writing, he's a die-hard Chicago Bears fan and has two cats, appropriately named Siskel and Ebert!