Review: ‘The Lost City’ (a jungle slog)

Perfect for those craving a live-action romance novel… minus “the good parts.”

Loretta Sage (Sandra Bullock) is a reclusive author with a string of best-selling romance novels starring heroine Angela and her hero Dash — represented on book jackets and on book tours by cover model Alan (Channing Tatum). Since the passing of her archeologist husband, listless Loretta has grown tired of her novels, particularly in how Alan has inseparably become “Dash” in the flesh. Alan actually likes Loretta but can’t get her attention, so when she’s kidnapped by “eccentric billionaire” Fairfax (Daniel Radcliffe), Alan seizes the opportunity to prove himself by rescuing her… which he is ill-equipped to do. Flown to a volcanic island in the Atlantic Ocean, Loretta learns her use of an actual ancient language in her books points to a real treasure fictionalized in her novels, and for the first time in years, she begins to feel alive at the possibilities. If only she wasn’t zip-tied to a chair in the middle of nowhere…

With a varied career in all kinds of movies, Loretta feels like a step backward for Sandra Bullock playing a literal woman in need of rescuing, so there has to be something more to this, right? Channing Tatum often plays characters that parody/exploit his size/looks rather than be taken seriously as an actor, but after a surprising turn in Dog as a damaged combat veteran suddenly on the outside looking in, is he being underutilized in Hollywood? Anyone who’s seen the trailer for The Lost City knows Brad Pitt shows up with Bullock looking smitten and Tatum looking worried… but no spoilers here. Co-directors Arron and Adam Nee have a lot riding on their shoulders with an all-star cast, but can a romantic comedy dressed up like a neutered bodice ripper take down The Batman before April’s wide releases flood cinemas?

The protagonist is most often a main character in any story, someone who acts to move the plot forward, but how does that work when neither lead is an alpha character? The 1984 Robert Zemeckis film Romancing the Stone — which The Lost City immediately draws comparisons to — starred Michael Douglas and Kathleen Turner as two alpha personalities competing for control. The opposite is true of The Lost City, with two beta personalities struggling to equal a single alpha between them, even to the point of negotiating how their desperate actions didn’t technically result in the death of bad guy. Our would-be heroes eventually fail upward into their inevitable reconciliation (it’s a romantic comedy, remember?) dragging on to deliver a mercifully okay ending and an acceptable denouement, a sad hint of what shouldn’t come from a sequel that has even less of a right to exist. Heroes can’t fall in love again if everything is hunky-dory between adventures, right? Insert Jewel of the Nile anecdote here… and never mind The War of the Roses.

“You either die the hero, or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain.” Besides the obvious romantic interests, the biggest missed opportunity was Daniel Radcliffe’s average bad guy Fairfax, fully loaded with too much money, wanting something he can’t buy, and of course a mandatory British accent; how has he not been cast as an Imperial officer in a Disney+ Star Wars spinoff yet? As a story embracing the idea people can be more than they seem, Radcliffe’s initial appearance showed some promise before devolving into a one-note character anyone could have played; filmmakers would have done better to stick with the “Fantasy Villain” instead. The opposite was true, however, for Da’Vine Joy Randolph’s literary agent Beth Hatten, who steps up in the script, makes the most it, and has a sweeter side story (thanks to Oscar Nuñez) than the main plot.

Fans of the romance genre, the actors, or even those just looking for a light escape at the movies might enjoy this. The Lost City isn’t terrible, but neither is it exceptional… until you realize Ms. Bullock was graduating college when Mr. Tatum was starting kindergarten. Well done, milady… well done!

The Lost City is rated PG-13 for violence and some bloody images, suggestive material, partial nudity, language, and bloodsucking leeches for days — not the literary agent and the eccentric billionaire.

Two skull recommendation out of four

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