In a setup and general vibe that reminded me of films like Romancing the Stone, The Lost City tells the story of frustrated romance novelist Loretta Sage (Sandra Bullock), who has had her greatest and longest success writing the adventures of the same hero character, Dash, whose old-fashioned adventures have made up a series of books that Loretta is looking to wrap up with her latest title. After meeting with her book agent Beth (Da’Vine Joy Randolph), she agrees to a small promotional tour but is tricked into doing her first Q&A with the male model Alan (something of a big, dumb but loyal dog, played by Channing Tatum), who has posed as Dash on the covers of all of her books. As the Q&A proves, Alan/Dash is more popular than Loretta, and she announces then and there that the series is over.
As she storms out of the event, she is picked up/kidnapped and taken to meet an eccentric billionaire named Fairfax (a game and playful Daniel Radcliffe), who was pushed out of the family business, allowing him time to amass a huge collection of historical artifacts. The treasure he is currently seeking just happens to be the subject of Loretta’s latest book and includes well-researched clues Fairfax wants enhanced so he can find the prized piece in a place called “The Lost City.” Alan happens to see Loretta get snatched up, and arranges to save her, even though he has no actual military or mercenary training. Wisely, he enlists the help of an actual mercenary named Trainer (Brad Pitt, in an extended cameo) to lead the mission. But when Trainer is taken out of the equation early on, Alan must rise to the occasion, rescue Loretta, and lead them both to safety.
Directed by relative newcomers Adam and Aaron Nee (Band of Robbers), The Lost City is a bit of an obvious action-comedy that suffers a great deal once Pitt leaves the screen. But more importantly, the film also isn’t especially funny. Bullock has set aside every ounce of on-screen charm she’s ever possessed and just plays Loretta as a one-note grumpy, bitter, frustrated writer, who seems to miss the fact that an actual adventure is happening around her that is providing her with all of the moments her isolated life has been missing. And although she has sworn off reviving the Dash character, with the clear inspiration for her next novel playing out in front of her, she’s too busy making fun of Alan to notice. The only thing worse than a humorless Sandra Bullock is Channing Tatum playing a character who lacks confidence to the degree Alan does. He’s good looking, popular, and not completely without helpful ideas, yet he whimpers and seems afraid of Loretta. What fun!
Since this is also a romantic journey, we assume there will be a few sparks between our leads, and there simply aren’t. That being said, a few solid laughs show up from supporting characters like Pitt’s Trainer, Randolph’s Beth, Patti Harrison as a social media guru working for Beth, and Oscar Nuñez as a local man living on the island where Loretta and Alan are trapped. It’s very easy to have Bullock and Channing cast in your film and believe you don’t have to actually write anything for them to say, since you would assume their natural charisma can carry them through any scene. You’d be wrong. Of course, they grab your attention for any number of reasons, but any movie needs the foundation of a decent script. You can’t Hail Mary your entire film by casting great personas and hoping that gets you through the entire production. That never works. It’s essentially what the filmmakers of The Lost City have done, and it shows.
Because Bullock and Tatum are naturally gifted comic actors, sometimes a joke lands, of course, but that needs to happen far more often in a work like this, and it simply doesn’t. As a result, we get half-baked ideas, banter that sounds more like people just talking over each other, and sight gags that look expensive but don’t really amount to much. As much as I’m looking forward to Tatum making his way back into movies after a prolonged absence, I hope he does better than this moving forward. This one is a bit of a slog for all involved.
The Lost City is now in theaters.
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