A lonely romance writer losing touch with her creativity finds herself trapped in the south American jungle with an unlikely male companion. They’re being hunted by bad guys in nice suits while also chasing rumors about a fabulous hidden treasure. Is it the classic 80s comedy/romance/adventure Romancing The Stone? No, it’s The Lost City, a spiritual successor that’s comes close to being just as fun and thrilling.
Loretta Sage (Sandra Bullock) has just released The Lost City of D, the latest in a series of romantic adventure books that she herself long ago lost interest in. On her book tour, she gets kidnapped by Abigail Fairfax (Daniel Radcliffe), a billionaire who’s convinced the lost city and accompanying treasure described in her book is real. To the rescue is Alan (Channing Tatum), the cover model for Loretta’s books who’s desperate to prove he’s more than just a pretty face and a killer set of pecs. It probably goes without saying that he and Loretta are way, way out of their comfort zones here.
Just a little bit of personal stuff to start off with. As a child of the 80s, I did end up watching Romancing the Stone multiple times. It was a favorite of my mother’s, and as a young gay boy, I found myself instinctively drawn to Kathleen Turner. So when I saw the trailers for The Lost City, it seemed like a modern attempt to replicate that film’s seemingly effortless genre balancing act and perfect cast chemistry. It even opens with a fake-out scene that turns out to be a passage from the author protagonist’s current work-in-progress.
However, what I was not expecting was how fun, funny, exciting, and enjoyable The Lost City would end up being. Directors Aaron and Adam Nee — who also wrote the film with Mortal Kombat‘s Oren Uziel and Cruella‘s Dana Fox — have created a fabulous matinee genre film. Imperfect perhaps, but one that flows so effortlessly and quickly that any of its flaws are quickly forgotten as we race from scene to scene.
This is a film that lives, breathes, jumps, and runs completely on the strength of the chemistry between the leads. Thankfully, this is not a problem. Sandra Bullock and Channing Tatum are simply fantastic together. Even if you aren’t huge fans of either, seeing them as a duo is nothing short of entertaining. They banter, they bicker, and they learn to trust each other with a rapport that feels entirely organic and natural. Which is quite a feat given how tangled and complicated a place their characters’ relationship starts in.
When the film opens, Alan has been the model for 20 of Loretta’s books and has come to fully associate himself with her heroic, Fabio-esque lead, Dash McMahon. The two do press events where the intellectual and socially awkward Loretta is constantly upstaged by Alan’s Chippendale showboating. People come to the book tour to beg Alan to take his shirt off, not to hear how Loretta used her knowledge of history and ancient cultures to inform her books. Loretta may resent Alan and her own career on multiple levels, but Alan feels indebted to her and sees the value in what she writes. And as a reminder, this is where their relationship begins at. It would be a difficult road to trek from there if Loretta and Alan weren’t played by actors perfectly cast in their roles.
Bullock is her most Bullock-y as Loretta, and that’s just fine by me. This is a character we’ve seen her play multiple times, but she does it so well that it’s more than welcome. Loretta is very smart but also thinks she’s more capable than she truly is, and Bullock nails the screwball comedy aspects of Loretta finding herself in such desperate situations. She spends most of the film wandering the jungle in a hideously gaudy, sequined fuchsia jumpsuit, and she even makes that look good.
As for Tatum, this is honestly the role he was born to play. Alan is the ultimate himbo; gorgeous, pumped up, endearingly oblivious, and running entirely on emotional intelligence. Tatum is not the most versatile actor, but he is extremely charismatic, and that also sums up Alan to a tee. Tatum throws his entire self into this role, and his dedication shows up in just about every scene. It also doesn’t hurt that he looks fantastic. Aaron and Adam Nee deserve some kind of special award for giving us an extended scene where Loretta examines Alan’s big, beautiful bubble butt for leeches. The only way that could be more exciting is if it was in IMAX.
Beyond Bullock and Tatum, the film has a fantastic supporting cast, even if he leads’ chemistry sort of forces them to the periphery. Daniel Radcliffe is clearly enjoying playing the villain, and there are multiple scenes where he’s so into his role that the veins in his neck and head appear to be ready to burst. Da’Vine Joy Randolph shows up as Loretta’s publisher who also eventually joins the rescue attempt, and it’s a shame that she isn’t better integrated into the plot because Randolph is effortlessly funny in every scene. And yes, Brad Pitt shows up at some point as promised by the trailers, but explaining more would give away spoilers. Suffice it to say that he’s also having a great time and very much playing up his own film persona in the best ways.
But like I alluded to, the supporting cast many times feels like they aren’t truly part of the film. The film is so focused on Loretta and Alan that it becomes easy to forget there are other characters in the movie. It’s not until the final act that the various characters start to converge, and before then it can sometimes seem like there are three entirely separate movies going on. While there isn’t anything terribly wrong with any of the writing, it often feels like the script is paying more attention to moving forward than making sure all the characters feel like they’re part of the same adventure.
As for the script itself, there is nothing at all surprising here. If you’re expecting clever plot twists or reveals, you’re in the wrong place, and there’s an abuse of Chekov’s everything here. When Fairfax makes a reference to a volcano being active, you know that volcano’s going to blow up sometime in the third act. Not that that’s always a bad thing. Part of the film’s charm actually comes from the fact that it’s completely and totally predictable. This is a matinee blockbuster, not an A24 horror film, and is fiercely proud to be so. The Nee brothers also add plenty of fun little details to help give them the film a personality and sparkle.
There is a kind of power when a genre film wholly embraces its roots in such a way; that’s where we get surprisingly good films like Underwater. The lack of pretension helps to smooth out any of the film’s weaknesses and eases the audience into a kind of welcome, casual vulnerability. For instance, even though the film is quite humorous, the writing itself is good while not being anything that’s necessarily next level. But the energy of the film just grabs you, and you enter into a kind of emotional safe space, letting go and joining in on the fun.
Is the The Lost City perfect? Absolutely not. Is it a good time from start to finish? Oh, hell yes. While we may have seen a lot of this on screen before, the chemistry between the leads elevates it and helps it soar. It might be a very familiar adventure, but it’s definitely one worth taking.
FBOTU Score: 7 out of 10 / B