New Rom-Com ‘The Lost City’ Is Predictably Awful, But Is It Also Kinda What the World Needs?
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No one should have to tell you that The Lost City — featuring Sandra Bullock as a romance adventure fiction writer and Channing Tatum as her Fabio-esque cover model — is not a great movie. It’s exactly as lame as the trailer suggests it will be. Bullock and Tatum have played iterations of these characters before. The plot is strenuously incredulous. And the “exotic locales” scream dressed up backlot/CGI overkill.
Yet the existence of Sandra Bullock entertainment — high calorie content with absolutely no redeeming nutritional value whatsoever — is cause for rejoicing for theater chains. Because if a tried-and-true piece of puffery like The Lost City can’t get hesitant adults back into seats, what hope is there for the industry?
Directed by Aaron and Adam Nee, with a screenplay by Oren Uziel, Dana Fox and the directors based on a story by Seth Gordon, The Lost City has nothing more on its mind than delivering a good time with a couple of old pros and some talented, scene-stealing supporting players.
Bullock is Loretta Sage, a reclusive romance adventure novelist dragged from the safety of her home for a book tour to support the flagging sales of her latest opus, “The Lost City of D.” Tatum is Alan Caprison, the himbo cover model who has represented the adventures of Dash MacMahon since his first appearance on paper. He’s a surprise guest at a book tour stop foisted on Loretta by her overzealous publishing agent Beth (Da’Vine Joy Randolph) and her new social media expert Allison (Patti Harrison). When Loretta is kidnapped by Abigail Fairfax (Daniel Radcliffe), the disgruntled scion of a wealthy family, Alan takes it upon himself to act like his fictional counterpart and save the damsel in distress from the nefarious clutches of evil.
The Lost City never threatens us with anything believable. From the obviously fake sets — which give Kenneth Branagh’s Death on the Nile locales serious competition in worst production design — to the bits of physical business that Bullock does in a very sparkly jumpsuit in the jungle, everything is elevated just out of the reach of reality. The leads don’t have characters to play; merely situations.
If there was a witty line of dialogue in the entire running time of the film, I must have missed it. Radcliffe, who has done some fine post-Harry Potter work, is a puppy dog in the presence of his co-stars; not the best quality for a villain. He’s game, but ineffectual.
Tatum breaks through here and there; his pretty-but-dim cover model wants to do the right thing, so at least he has a sense of values. But his heroism is from another era, and though Bullock’s Loretta might seem befuddled in much of the film, she can save her damn self, thank you very much.
Those who fare best are Patti Harrison, as the social media expert who never met a hashtag she didn’t overuse; Oscar Nũnez (from NBC’s The Office), as a sweet-natured pilot who takes a shine to the frazzled agent; and Bowen Yang as the book tour emcee whose interest in fiction begins and ends with the hunky Dash. Their combined screen time is probably less than seven minutes — not much to hang a recommendation on — but luckily there’s also Brad Pitt as Jack Trainer, a former Navy SEAL/CIA agent roped into service by Alan to rescue Loretta. He’s only in the first third of The Lost City, but he’s reason enough to sit through it. He’s in on the joke even when his character is the butt of the joke itself. And his weathered handsomeness is in stark counterpoint to Tatum’s more manicured representation of masculinity.
When The Lost City is over, it’s over. The only aspect you remember is a scene of violence that’s random, surprising and inappropriately funny. The love story fizzles. The adventure is an afterthought. And the comedy is both obvious and strained. Yet in this tentative moment while we venture back out into the big scary world, an hour and a half in a theater with some old friends is not the worst way to spend an evening out.