A Romancing the Stone-like adventure featuring a more unlikely pair of lovers-to-be than Michael Douglas and Kathleen Turner, Aaron and Adam Nee’s The Lost City follows a romance novelist (Sandra Bullock) as she’s caught up in a plot every bit as loony as those she has grown tired of inventing for her fans.
While it’s no longer surprising to see the sensitive and funny sides of costar Channing Tatum, his hunky character’s puppy-like devotion to Bullock’s dismissive damsel in distress serves the pic quite well, enlivening action that (after a winningly over-the-top kickoff) might otherwise grow too generic. A vastly bigger undertaking than The Last Romantic, the microbudget debut the directors brought to SXSW in 2006, it’s a thoroughly commercial film despite feeling only a little bit more of-the-moment than its 1984 inspiration.
The Lost City
The Bottom Line
An enjoyable throwback.
Release date: March 25 (Paramount Pictures) Venue: SXSW Film Festival (Headliners) Cast: Sandra Bullock, Channing Tatum, Daniel Radcliffe, Da’Vine Joy Randolph, Oscar Nuñez, Patti Harrison, Bowen Yang Directors: Adam Nee, Aaron Nee Screenwriters: Oren Uziel, Dana Fox, Adam Nee, Aaron Nee
1 hour 51 minutes
Five years after the death of her husband, Bullock’s Loretta mourns him mainly by refusing to finish her much-anticipated new novel. She hates writing this stuff, which is a cheap exploitation of the serious history- and archaeology-based work she started her career with. But it’s the backbone of the publishing house run by Beth Hatten (Da’Vine Joy Randolph), so Loretta finishes the book (promising herself it will be her last), grits her teeth and begins the tour to promote it.
You’d hate doing a promotional tour too, if fans only really showed up for a glimpse of the model whose torso graces all your book jackets. (Wearing a flowing blonde wig and an easily removed shirt, Tatum’s Dash takes the stage with boisterous showmanship not seen since Gob’s magic act on Arrested Development.) Loretta makes a mess of this event and exits as quickly as possible, whereupon she is promptly abducted.
It turns out that billionaire archaeology enthusiast Abigail Fairfax (a smartly cast Daniel Radcliffe), the scion of a media empire, has been hunting for an ancient relic and believes Loretta’s the only person who can help find it. (Drawing on research she did in more serious years, she revealed some actual knowledge of dead languages in her latest romance.) He jets her to a forgotten island, where he expects her to translate stone carvings and find a fabled Crown of Fire.
Dash, behaving like the adventurer in Loretta’s novels, sets off to rescue her — even if that requires the help of a man with actual skills. Jack Trainer (Brad Pitt), a rugged man of few words, really is the brains-and-brawn hero Loretta has imagined all these years, and the contrast between the two men provides plenty of laughs as they sneak into Fairfax’s island compound. They rescue Loretta, who’s still clad in the idiotic sequined jumpsuit Beth forced her to wear on tour; but they’re soon separated, leaving the sincere but unskilled male model trying to get through the jungle with a woman he has quietly realized he loves.
That infatuation only goes one way, despite Loretta’s many opportunities to recognize the tenderness under all that beefcake. Bullock isn’t at her most misanthropic here, but she makes Loretta as myopic and self-absorbed as any of her previous characters, accepting Dash’s help as if she were doing him a favor. Meanwhile, he’s bringing her jungle-appropriate footwear and the kind of snacks he knows she likes. And eventually hatching some fairly clever plans to evade Fairfax’s henchmen.
This is pretty close to a classic screwball-romance equation, of course. While the dialogue rarely crackles the way the original screwball films did, the Nees and their two co-writers find some pleasing little bits of action to demonstrate how the heroes’ increasing reliance on each other is destined to grow into love. Sure, it’s lame that Loretta only really warms up to Dash after she sees the bottom half of a body that is so often naked from the waist up; but Dash is a big enough man to get over being objectified.
The Nees push their luck when they look past Stone to draw on the adventures of Indiana Jones; here, action is best when it’s comedic and character-driven, not reminding us of genre masterworks. But if failing to live up to the example of Raiders of the Lost Ark were a crime, much of Hollywood would be in jail.
Even with an unnecessary subplot or two, the film feels reasonably brisk for its nearly two-hour running time — rushed, even, when it comes to the consummation of a relationship that finally begins to resemble the one that made Loretta’s books a success. Which is not to say we need another film exploring this odd-couple affair: The Nees would be wise to move on from their Stone fixation before making a pic like that film’s misbegotten sequel, 1985’s The Jewel of the Nile.