A film review by Craig J. Koban June 5, 2022


2022, PG-13, 92 mins.

Sandra Bullock as Loretta Sage  /  Channing Tatum as Alan  /  Daniel Radcliffe as Fairfax  /  Brad Pitt as Jack Trainer  /  Da'Vine Joy Randolph as Beth  /  Raymond Lee as Officer Gomez  /  Thomas Forbes-Johnson as Julian

Directed by The Nee Brothers Written by Oren Uziel, Dana Fox, and Adam Nee




THE LOST CITY tries awfully hard to be the second coming of ROMANCING THE STONE, which, in turn, was a romantic comedy riff on the swashbuckling jungle themed adventures of INDIANA JONES before it.  This most certainly pays homage to that 1984 Robert Zemeckis directed film in multiple ways: It contains everything from a mismatched pair from different walks of life that will unavoidably become lovers; a woman that's a celebrated novelist that finds herself whisked into her own real life adventure; and, yes, a MacGuffin inspired treasure that leads to both the heroes and villains of the piece racing towards it in order to claim it all for their own. 

You can really sense very early on in THE LOST CITY where it's headed at just about every waking moment, and in many respects it feels somewhat antiquated in terms of approach (this picture is anything but original).  However, there's an undeniable charm that permeates the production and the makers and stars here understand what kind of screwball throwback genre effort they're making.  Even if the film is particularly uninspired, it makes up for it with a breezy sense of humor, decent pacing, and a pair of well matched leads that have solid odd couple chemistry.   

That, and it's nice to see star Sandra Bullock return to her comedic roots, especially after a recent series of solemn dramatic efforts.  Here she plays fan favorite adventure romance novelist Loretta Sage, who pens the kind of gaudy fiction that usually would populate the stands in grocery store checkouts and features a Fabio-esque male model adorning the cover as the book's main hero.  Even though Loretta has relative wealth and fame, the years of penning such trivial, retrograde novels are starting to get the better of her and she's found herself in an existentialist bit of writer's block.  She's currently working on her latest titled THE LOST CITY OF D, but the widowed and all alone author is beginning to have second thoughts about continuing on with this long running series.  She desperately wants to quit, but she's coaxed on to continue by her domineering manager, Beth (the very funny Da' Vine Joy Randolph), who insists that (a) she finishes this latest book and (b) partakes on a massive promotional tour for it because...well...that's what her fans want.  All Loretta wants to do is lay in her tub all day and sip ice cube chilled champagne. 

Despite her misgivings and feelings of low self worth, Loretta gives in to her manager's demands, which she learns also means sharing the tour alongside her publisher's longtime cover model in Alan (Channing Tatum), a himbo of the highest order who has million dollar physical assets, but a ten cent brain.  Fate steps in during the tour when Loretta is abruptly kidnapped Abigail (a deliriously over the top Daniel Radcliffe), a billionaire that's on the hunt for the impossible to find artifact known as "The Crown of Fire", and for some reason he thinks that Loretta's expertise in perhaps knowing where the item is located could be of value to his raiders team.  Without warning, Loretta is drugged and taken against her will a remote tropical island by Abigail's goon squad, but back home both Alan and Beth spring into action and decide that they'll need an expert tracker to sneak in undetected and save Loretta from the clutches of this madman.  They find their savior in the hunky Jack Trainer (Brad Pitt, sporting a tremendous mane of hair and looking like he just stepped off the set of LEGENDS OF THE FALL), who does swoop in and manages to save Loretta, even with the perpetually dimwitted Alan in tow.  Jack is like the living embodiment of the heroes that Alan poses for on those cover shoots, but when Loretta and Allan get separated from Jack they realize that they're hopelessly on their own in the jungle and well away from civilization.   



THE LOST CITY definitely has some fun with both its casting and the premise that its characters find themselves in.  Loretta and Allan, in true ROMANCING OF THE STONE fashion, are a fire and gasoline pairing in the early stages, stemming mostly from the fact that the seasoned writer in Loretta is on the polar opposite end of the intelligence gene pool from Allan.  Allan is a bloody dimwit, to be sure, but he's not a callous fool and he absolutely means well, even when his tomfoolery and supreme lapses in judgment spell doom for them throughout their ordeal.  I admired the atypical gender reversed roles and casting here, seeing as we've seen countless adventure films before where we have the aging male star play hero to the much younger female love interest.  Here, we have Bullock playing the much older (and smarter) protagonist to Tatum's younger boy band looking doofus who seems to need the most saving here.  There's a 17 year age gap between the stars, but it never becomes distracting, seeing as both Bullock and Tatum are both effortlessly dialed into their respective roles and play amusingly well off of one another.  Their growing attraction and romance is achingly predictable, yes, but the actors are so agreeable on screen together that you'll willing to forgive the preordained plot machinations.  I also appreciated how Loretta doesn't simply get pigeonholed into troupe laden damsel in distress mode and Allan - despite be spectacularly dumb - has an awfully big heart and will stop at nothing to protect his meal ticket writer.   

The supporting cast is good here as well, especially, as mentioned, with Randolph finding ways to generate big laughs with her fiercely determined manager in Beth, who hilariously struggles to find simple travel arrangements to the remote island in question.  Radcliffe is a real hoot as his pompadour styled uber rich villain that's both an equal parts uncoordinated dweeb and deeply narcissistic and self serving madmen that uses his massive tech fortune to get what he wants when he wants it...albeit in highly awkward ways.  He's a clownish psychopath on autopilot, but at least Radcliffe seems to relish - as of late - sinking his teeth into roles that are the furthest thing away from his world famous tenure as Harry Potter.  And, uh huh, we definitely need to talk about Pitt's painfully brief, but highly memorable turn as super tracker extraordinaire Jack Trainer, who single handedly steals the entire film away from just about everyone with his deadpan hilarity in this highly self-deprecating role ("My father was a weatherman," he replies when the blushing Loretta asks him why he's so handsome).  Pitt score so many well earned laughs here that the film almost doesn't fully recover when it's done with what's essentially a five-plus minute cameo (which, BTW, the film's marketing should have kept a well guarded secret).   

One of the main issues, however, that I had with THE LOST CITY is that, yeah, the makers here - comprised of directors Aaron and Adam Nee working from a story conceived by HORRIBLE BOSS' director Seth Gordon - don't really push the material all the way on a conceptual level; they seem to stridently adhere to the romance/treasure hunting formulas that we've all seen countless times before.  If one considers an early scene where Loretta imagines herself placed smack dab in the middle of one of her novels alongside its hero - and during one of the more tense moments - there were huge opportunities for ripe industry satire that are never fully capitalized on.  Also, Bullock is clearly in her performance comfort zone here, and even though I think it was refreshing for her to abandon some of her more grave dramatic films (like BIRD BOX and THE UNFORGIVABLE) to return back and give her fans what they want, there's no denying that this is a popcorn movie role that she can do in her proverbial sleep.  THE LOST CITY could easily be best described as Bullock fan comfort food and will definitely placate her base, to be sure, but there certainly can have been a bit more conceptual innovation injected in here to make the project feel less slavishly similar to ROMANCING THE STONE.   

In the end, I don't think that bothered me as much.  Everyone involved seems to understand what kind of film they're making here, and in terms of delivering on the prescribed goods, THE LOST CITY mostly delivers and is an unpretentious good time.  It's as forgettable as it is entertainingly preposterous, and the rampant silliness is sustained mostly because of the strong performance good will of Bullock and Tatum committing to their parts and going beyond to please audience members.  The road map for this film is as easy to read as any - the bumbling stooge that is Alan will man up and shape up to be the hero he's aspired to and Loretta with let her cold cynical edge evaporate to emotionally bond with this man while they hunt for treasure - but the journey of these kind of films is what matters most, and THE LOST CITY is modestly pleasurable as it tries to excavate a genre that simply doesn't dominate the multiplexes these days.  It's a copycat production, sure, but it's an endearing and enjoyable facsimile

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