‘The Lost City’ Goes in Search of a Lost Genre: The Action-Adventure Movie Star Rom-Com
Sandra Bullock and Channing Tatum try to resurrect a 1980s strain of romantic comedy derring-do and come up with an empty tomb
It is a Sunday afternoon, you are extremely hungover, and no amount of brunch or Bloody Marys or hair extracted from any breed of dog can cure what ails you. All you can do is curl up under a blanket on your couch and watch whatever old movies are playing on basic cable stations. You know, the ones that rerun endless blockbusters of yesteryear, campy-schlock comedies, cheesy romantic farces — the channels that program blocks of comfort-food cinema designed to soothe your throbbing noggin. Something has to hold your attention while you wait for the Advil to kick in.
One push of a remote-control button later, and boom! There’s Sandra Bullock, still America’s flinty sweetheart, playing a widowed romance-novel writer who’s stuck in a rut. Trotting gamely by her side like a panting Labrador puppy with abs is Channing Tatum, playing the popular model who’s graced most of her book covers, sometimes even with a shirt on. The latest entry in her series about globetrotting lovers isn’t selling so well, given that it reads like a eulogy with sex scenes; its details about an ancient civilization deep in the jungles of South America, however, have attracted the interest of Daniel Radcliffe’s evil, cheerful billionaire. He thinks she knows where the mythical Calaman’s Tomb is located, and can help him find the legendary treasure known as the Crown of Fire.
One abduction later, Bullock’s reluctant Indiana Jones in a magenta sequined catsuit is clomping around an excavation site staffed by goons and thugs. Tatum’s dim-witted himbo, who harbors a schoolboy crush for the wordsmith, is determined to rescue her. Narrow escapes, chase scenes involving comically tiny cars, some blind stabs at banter and many leeches being removed from a butt-double’s moneymaker ensue. I guess this isn’t so bad, you think, adjusting the ice pack on your forehead.
This is exactly how The Lost City is meant to be consumed, at some moment in the distant future when you’re trying to semi-sleep off the previous night’s hedonism. Judges will also accept viewing it at 34,000 feet on a plane, when you have a few hours to kill and there’s nothing else available on the airline’s in-flight entertainment service. The fact that this new take on an old chestnut is coming to a theater near you almost feels like an afterthought — it is specifically designed to be watched in a state of distraction and/or defenseless against its aggressive attempts to charm. Bullock and Tatum may be in search of a lost artifact, but the movie itself is trying to excavate a long-lost genre: the big-budget action-adventure movie-star rom-com. It wants to be a modern Romancing the Stone so badly you can almost see the flop-sweat dripping down the screen.
The single funniest thing about this resurrection attempt is how much it adheres to a tried-and-true formula, from the exotic locales to the ethnic henchmen to the supporting stable of comic-relief folks cracking wise. The movie is smart enough to recruit the great Da’Vine Joy Randolph, Patti Harrison, Bowen Yang, and The Office‘s Oscar Nunez for its bench here, and lazy enough to assume that having them repeatedly say “Hashtag Shawn Mendes!” or giving them a funny accent and an occasional reaction shot is all that’s needed for a laugh. It’s not a spoiler to say that Brad Pitt and his flowing flaxen locks show up, given that his presence has been a key part of the marketing materials. Nor is it much of a shock to say that his extended in-joke cameo playing an ex-Navy SEAL who constantly snacks is the highlight of the movie, briefly turning things into a love triangle in between close-combat beatdowns. And while the fight scenes here are sloppily edited, they give enough to suggest that Pitt should hook up with a director like David Leitch and do his own middle-aged action-hero version of Atomic Blonde. (Would we happily watch Brad Wick? Yes. Yes, we would.)
As for Bullock and Tatum, they’re both doing their best to do what they’ve done best in the past — they just don’t seem to be doing it in tandem. Maybe we’re sentimental (or just very old), but it’s lovely to see the Miss Congeniality star taking a break from fighting postapocalyptic aliens while blindfolded or doing the prestige-drama dinginess thing, and returning to the type of movie that she helped define and refine many years ago. She has a wicked, first-class um-what-did-you-just-say expression that gets put to very good use here. Tatum is one of those performers who know how to play stupid in the smartest of ways; it takes a certain type of comedic actor to have his character be told that it’s impossible for women to “mansplain” something, then nail the reply that he’s a feminist “and I believe that women can do anything that a man can do!” On their own? Wonderful. Pair them together? Nick and Nora Charles they are not.
There’s an art to doing this kind of flirting-and-fireball type of entertainment, and whether a different duo in front of the camera or behind it — the directors are the siblings Aaron and Adam Nee — could have improved this filler is anyone’s guess. As is, The Lost City is less of a lost opportunity than something happy to stick to its middle lane and bide its time. Because one day, you will come across this movie on TV, positioned between Two Weeks Notice and The Jewel of the Nile during a TBS weekend movie marathon, and, because you’re too tired to change the channel, settle into a comfortable two hours of sheer mediocrity.
From Rolling Stone US.