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The Lost City Review: Sandra Bullock and Channing Tatum’s Chemistry Can’t Rescue Film from Jungle of Cliches


The Lost City
Image via Paramount Pictures

Sandra Bullock recently announced that she’d be taking a temporary break from acting, which is a bummer for movie lovers, especially fans of her unique comedic talents. Her knack for comedy is on full display in The Lost City, in which she and Channing Tatum play an opposites-attract-type couple stuck in an improbable jungle adventure worthy of the cheesiest Hollywood blockbusters. The Lost City means to parody those films, and Bullock and Tatum’s surprising level of chemistry aids tremendously in that quest. But the cardinal sin for any such film is to display the very cliches it mocks or, even worse, to stop being funny. The Lost City’s script eventually falls into both sinkholes and not even its star-studded cast’s muscular talent can save it from that self-created morass.

Bullock stars as Loretta Sage, the disaffected novelist behind a bestselling series of pulpy romances featuring Dash McMahon. Tatum plays Alan, the cover model for Dash — bulging biceps, solid pecs, washboard abs and all. Loretta wishes that her fans cared about the interesting archeological and anthropological bits she peppers her novels with (she was a former explorer herself, in a past life), but the gals (and guys) in her audience swoon over and over again for Dash’s debonaire smile, rippling arm flexes and winking, blown kisses. Her publicist, Beth (Da’Vine Joy Randolph), tries her best to spruce up Loretta’s digital age persona, but the deadpan cynicism that Bullock excels at persistently gets in the way.

The Lost City
Image via Paramount Pictures

Fed up, Loretta considers putting down her pen or — even worse — killing off Dash, when fate intervenes in the form of Abigail Fairfax, played by an impossibly grown-up Daniel Radcliffe. Abigail is an eccentric billionaire who spots in Loretta’s latest book a potential hint to a long-lost treasure on a remote island in the mid-Atlantic. The book is aptly titled The Lost City of D, and query why that part was dropped from the film’s title. In any event, with Loretta unwitting to help voluntarily, Abigail body snatches her to the island in question so she can help him find the mysterious treasure. Beth and Dash spring to the rescue, with the latter also enlisting the help of Navy Seal-turned-rogue agent Jack Trainer (an incredibly well-cast Brad Pitt).

The Lost City’s filmmakers — directors and screenwriters Adam and Aaron Nee (Band of Robbers) — understand that their movie’s premise is inherently silly and even a bit ridiculous. That’s the whole point, which they gleefully embrace. The character exposition in the first 15 minutes is quick and amusing, permitting Bullock and Tatum to quickly form a tense, playful chemistry through fights and banter whose outcome is all but guaranteed. The next frame, which focuses mostly on Pitt’s character’s efforts to save Loretta while teaching Tatum’s Dash how to be a suave action hero, is even more metaphysically amusing and entertaining.

The Lost City
Image via Paramount Pictures

But, the film goes off the rails when Pitt makes an abrupt exit and the action focuses almost entirely on Loretta and Dash lost in the jungle, with an ineffective subplot of Beth trying her best to catch up to them spliced in between. At that point, The Lost City mostly runs out of steam, with its best jokes and gags behind it, and with sequences that go on for too long and ultimately stop being entertaining. The scene in the trailer with leeches on Tatum’s back and Bullock gagging is the most memorable for a solid 75 minutes of the film’s runtime. The rest crumbles around a bizarre character who Beth encounters in her travels, not to mention several ineffective gags. Loretta and Dash’s sequences, meanwhile, switch from the effective back-and-forth that permits both actors to shine, to physical humor surrounding the various henchmen chasing them, and, eventually, the inevitable cliches of the burgeoning romance between them.

Again, there is nothing inherently wrong with silly plotlines, and The Lost City does a much better job than most films within this genre of fully embracing the goofiness of its central conceits and having fun with it. The problem is the filmmakers’ constant allusions to seriousness while insisting that nothing should be taken seriously. Loretta’s repeated references to her life as an archeologist with her dead husband are either totally unnecessary or criminally underbaked — or perhaps both — and jar violently with the film’s supposed disclaimer of anything other than parody. The same is true for the expected romance between the two lead characters. Here, too, the problem is not the predictability, which the movie embraces and the audience accepts, but rather, the unfortunate distraction that the subplot causes, taking away from the film’s shinier, funnier moments.

The Lost City
Image via Paramount Pictures

Tech-wise, The Lost City also provides little to write home about. This is a mid-budget production that will draw audiences based on its star power alone and the chance for some rollicking entertainment. The most memorable below-the-line element is perhaps the sequin-filled jumpsuit in which Bullock is forced to spend most of the proceedings, courtesy of experienced costume designer Deborah Lynn Scott (Avatar). The accouterments that characterize this onesie create a beacon for Radcliffe’s henchmen, who are hot on Loretta’s trail, and also advance the storyline while adding another layer of levity to the movie. Otherwise, the stunt department does most of the below-the-line heavy lifting.

By the time the credits roll, it’s hard not to feel a wistful nostalgia for this kind of movie, as well as a sense of appreciation for Bullock, who despite the shortcomings of this script, makes The Lost City a sufficiently entertaining movie if you can get past its most tedious moments. One hopes that her acting pause is short-lived and that she, like the character she plays in this film, quickly finds a second wind, because audiences need joy more than ever these days and she knows how to deliver laughs, especially when paired with the right sparring partner.

Grade: C+

The Lost City opens exclusively in theaters nationwide on Friday, March 25.

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