They say if you’re gonna steal an idea, steal from the best, so kudos of sorts to Seth Gordon for landing a “story by” credit on the new Romancing the Stone rip-off, The Lost City. Less commendable is the reality that it took four writers to turn that stolen idea into a script, but we’ll get to that below. What The Lost City gets right right off the bat, though, is casting leads capable of being charming and funny with equal aplomb. Sandra Bullock and Channing Tatum are stars for a reason, and while the film doesn’t always support them as well as you’d like, The Lost City still finds enough laughs on its bumpy road to adventure.
Loretta Sage (Bullock) is a novelist who found success with a series of romantic adventures featuring her own alter ego alongside a long-maned hunk of man-flesh named Dash. They’ve brought her fame, but she’s become something of a recluse in recent years still mourning the death of her husband some years prior. A book tour for her new novel finally gets her out of the house, but being paired with Alan (Tatum), the cover model who’s come to embody Dash for Loretta’s legion of fans, leaves her unsatisfied and disgruntled — almost as much as the glittering, purple onesie she was convinced to wear. Of course, things only get worse when she’s kidnapped by a tech billionaire named Abigail Fairfax (Daniel Radcliffe) who wants her help in locating a legendary treasure hinted at in her novels.
The Lost City is front-loaded with laughs that the film’s back half can’t match, but it’s the pairing of Bullock and Tatum that carries it across the finish line. Terrific supporting turns add to the fun, and minor action/comedy hijinks are sprinkled liberally throughout, but it’s all about those two leads. Directors/co-writers Aaron Nee & Adam Nee recognize this truth and stay out of the actors’ way, and while it leaves the brothers’ style feeling somewhat flavorless it’s the smart play when the story is this light.
Bullock became an “overnight” sensation with her eleventh feature film, 1994’s Speed, but it could be argued that her fourteenth film was every bit as important for her career arc. 1995’s While You Were Sleeping is a romantic comedy that nails every aspect of the genre, from the writing to the casting in both its lead roles and supporting ones, and it’s a formula she returned to for other successful rom-coms including Forces of Nature (1999), Two Weeks Notice (2002), and The Proposal (2009). It’s been thirteen years since she’s dipped a toe into the genre, and if The Lost City can’t match those others it at least shows that she hasn’t lost any of her comedic chops. Her timing and delivery remain impeccable as she bounces off costars with a joyful exasperation.
Tatum’s career has found similar highs on the comedy front with entertaining turns in very funny films including 21 Jump Street (2012), Magic Mike XXL (2015), and Jupiter Ascending (2015). He’s mastered the art of playing the deceptively stupid, and The Lost City sees him deliver as a beefcake with a little bit more on his mind than just ab work and moisturizers. Alan’s a nice guy whose naivete and lack of book smarts are fodder for Tatum’s effortless charm.
While Bullock and Tatum carry the film, they’re given phenomenal support from two talents in much smaller roles. Patti Harrison kills it as Loretta’s social media manager with quick jokes and lines earning big laughs, and while the film could definitely have used more from her these brief beats end a handful of scenes on a high. Brad Pitt also turns up as a professional mercenary, and it’s the kind of big swing cameo that big stars rarely make these days. He’s extremely funny in his deliveries and mannerisms, and it’s a reminder of just how great he is with comedic material. (Unrelated, but he and Bullock will be reuniting in Bullet Train later this year.)
Still, while the cast makes The Lost City well worth a visit, the rest of the film is a mix of the familiar and the forgettable. The script — written by Oren Uziel, Dana Fox, and the Nee brothers, based on on idea by Gordon, which was based on a viewing of Robert Zemeckis’ still brilliantly funny and exciting Romancing the Stone — struggles at times with particular troubles in its back half. The truly funny beats taper off as the film shifts gears into adventure/comedy mode and indundates viewers with far too many CG-backdrops and settings. A shift towards the romantic feels forced in the writing/directing, but thankfully for all involved, Bullock and Tatum find a playful banter between the lines.
The end result is a film that succeeds despite its limitations. The Lost City won’t set hearts aflutter or have you laughing until you cry, but it will entertain and distract you from reality with its mindless fun. It’s the kind of movie that will keep you amused on a long flight or will see you giggling on a lazy afternoon, and it’s a reminder that even minor comedies serve a purpose in a world as ridiculously grim as ours. But yes, they absolutely should have stuck with the original title, The Lost City of D.
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