The Lost City, featuring Sandra Bullock as a jaded Manhattan romance novelist suddenly living one of her fictional adventures after being kidnapped to hunt for treasure amidst the jungles of the Caribbean, owes a few huge debts of gratitude, beginning with a heavy nod to Robert Zemeckis’ 1984 charmer Romancing the Stone, which it gleefully rips off, at least in its romantic adventure premise. Cribbing Kathleen Turner and Michael Douglas aside, perhaps its biggest debt is hitching itself to the charms of its star—well, three of them if you include co-stars Channing Tatum and Brad Pitt—in lieu of crafting nuanced characters or much substance. Fun? Yes. Memorable? Who cares?
The Lost City is a testament to a long-gone movie axiom, that of movie stars we like in situations that entertain us, or give us a couple hours of escape. Conventional thinking is that movie stars today are dead in an age of social media where we no longer need to see them larger-than-life onscreen because we carry them on small devices in our pockets. But The Lost City, a silly comic adventure and experiment in chemistry between a pair of affable stars, has in its best moments an undeniable charm. Both actors can do this material with their eyes closed, but when it works, it works.
The screenplay, by Oren Uziel, Dana Fox and co-director Adam Nee (with brother Aaron Nee), combines a healthy dose of Stone, a smidge of Indiana Jones lite and a cavalcade of one-liners in telling the story of Loretta Sage, suffering from writer’s block on her latest novel, a sort of female swashbuckler saga with a hardcore fan base of women obsessed with the series’ fictional romantic hero Dash, co-opted in real life by dim-witted hunk Alan (Channing Tatum), the series’ Fabio-esque cover model who considers himself a co-architect of the novels’ success. And he’s onto something.
In the wake of her archaeologist husband’s death and her creative juices stifled, Loretta nonetheless must promote her latest novel, goaded by her publisher, Beth (Da’Vine Joy Randolph) into an audience event with Alan that goes spectacularly off the rails. And then it goes even further awry when she is nabbed by one Abigail Fairfax (straight man Daniel Radcliffe), a filthy rich but otherwise useless magnate whose obsession with an illustration in her latest novel leads to Loretta becoming his hostage, spirited to a far off tropical island in the Atlantic to help him locate an ancient, jeweled artifact named the Crown of Fire.
Alan, sensing his chance to prove to Loretta that he is every bit the real life hero from her novels and not just the pretty face on the cover, springs into action, calling upon former Navy SEAL and yoga retreat leader Jack Trainer (a very funny Brad Pitt). Their rescue sequence is a hoot, and while Pitt’s appearance constitutes little more than a cameo, he nearly walks away with the film—his buddy-buddy routine with Tatum while dispatching baddies is the funniest sequence in an American film so far this year.
Once Loretta is freed—though still attached to a chair, in a plunging sequined dress and stilettos—the picture becomes a jungle chase that puts the stars through the requisite hijinks of climbing cliffs, navigating thick jungle brush, braving leech infested rivers (leading to a very funny moment where good sport Tatum bares nearly everything), escaping periodic chases and, naturally, finding a few moments to fall for each other, whether sleeping together hammock style or cleaning up for a romantic tete-a-tete in a small jungle town. Turner and Douglas did this as well in their 1984 outing, dancing memorably and falling into more believable love in a far better picture. This time, a notable modern twist is that Alan is the insecure, out of his element character who must prove his mettle and Loretta is pretty much the brains of their jungle escape.
The other star bolstering the picture’s appeal is the Dominican Republic island setting, captured with swooping drone deployment and, since its an American film in 2022, a healthy dose of CGI in the form of massive waterfalls and a bubbling volcano. Of course, the crater bides its time until the big climax set inside an ancient, set-decorated tomb, and then blasts off right on cue. In this and other ways, The Lost City feels like a quintessential summer movie released in March.
As always, Bullock knows her way around a pratfall, and at age fifty-seven impressively radiates vitality and her signature comic timing. She seems, and looks, about two decades her junior. And Tatum, who appears to be rapid-fire riffing in the film, is consistently funny as the babe in the woods desperate to prove himself worthy of Loretta’s respect and affection. Special mention goes to Randolph, so good in 2019’s Dolemite is My Name and appealingly fun here, her Beth on a parallel trek to rescue Loretta by enlisting The Office’s Oscar Nunez as an eccentric cargo plane pilot.
The Lost City will likely be a hit—Bullock has uncanny instincts to star in them—and for simple entertainment you could do much worse. I liked The Lost City in all of its sustained lunacy, and Tatum, especially, gives it his all.
A mild recommendation is still a recommendation.