“The Lost City” is the kind of movie that looks like it was a lot more fun for the actors to film than it is for the audience to watch. Sandra Bullock and Channing Tatum got to spend time in each other’s company, goofing around in a comedy in the jungle that was probably closer to a nice beach than the movie makes it seem. That fun should have translated to me enjoying the actors’ company right along with them, but it’s more like being subjected to lengthy footage of a friend’s vacation rather than the immersive experience that this movie wanted to be.
Recently-widowed romance novelist Loretta Sage (Bullock) goes on a book tour to promote her latest novel, a lazily-assembled tome that combines her barely-addressed expertise in ancient history with the kind of trashy romance that sells paperbacks. She’s forced to share the stage with Alan Caprison (Tatum), her cover model and public face of protagonist Dash McMahon, brought in to play to audiences that don’t share Loretta’s passion for dead languages. The two don’t like each other, with her thinking he’s nothing more than a handsome face and him thinking she needs to lighten up.
But wait, there is one person that shares Loretta’s interest in the historical aspects of her novel. Unfortunately, it’s someone worse than all the airheaded Dash fans combined. Eccentric billionaire Abigail Fairfax (Daniel Radcliffe) notices that the book contains allusions to an actual dead language, one that could lead him to a legitimate lost city full of treasure. He abducts Loretta and flies her to his private island, where he’s confident the city is hidden, to do more translations.
Alan witnesses the abduction and decides to rescue Loretta himself to prove that he’s not brainless. He enlists adventurous friend Jack Trainer (Brad Pitt) and the two go to the island. Trainer easily rescues Loretta from Fairfax’s clutches, but the getaway… doesn’t go so well. By which I mean that we are subjected to one of the most gruesome scenes of violence I’ve ever seen in a PG-13 movie. Even most R-rated action movies have nothing on what we get here. All the relative innocuousness of the movie is gone in a flash for a scene that nobody is going to remember fondly.
Loretta and Alan spend the rest of the movie trying to get off the island and evade Fairfax, with a possibility that they could find the lost city for themselves. Along the way they squabble and bond and take turns saving each other. It’s not hard to draw the conclusion that they’ll wind up together in the end. There’s also a subplot about Loretta’s publisher Beth (Da’Vine Joy Randolph) launching a simultaneous rescue effort, but it could have been cut entirely (my vote says in favor of more of Radcliffe as the scene-stealing villain) and it would barely affect the rest of the movie.
For an adventure-comedy, “The Lost City” only works in its dramatic scenes. Loretta’s grieving, Alan’s empathy for Dash fans, and Beth’s desperation are the best things about this movie. It certainly doesn’t work on the level of adventure (Loretta is stuck wearing a sequined jumpsuit so the movie can insert an obvious stunt double, and the less said about a leech attack the better) or comedy (once again, I get the impression that the directors were too afraid to tell the big-name actors that their improvised dialogue wasn’t funny). I was all ready to embrace this movie because theaters haven’t had a potential blockbuster since “The Batman” three weeks ago, but this is not a blockbuster of an effort.
“The Lost City” is rated PG-13 for violence and some bloody images, suggestive material, partial nudity and language. Its running time is 112 minutes.
Robert R. Garver is a graduate of the Cinema Studies program at New York University. His weekly movie reviews have been published since 2006.