Review: ‘The Lost City’ Is A Charming Rom-Com Adventure
The Lost City (2022)
opening theatrically on March 25
The Lost City, which is getting a sneak preview tomorrow night (and handful of pre-release paid sneaks on Tuesday and Wednesday night), is a distinctly old-school studio picture. It’s very much, in terms of construction and intent, a star-driven, high-concept original that would have been a commercial slam dunk in a less IP-driven era. Back when the movie stars were the franchises and brands, well, you’ve got Sandra Bullock as a widowed romance novelist who has lost her creative mojo who ends up on a globe-trotting adventure with her cover model (Channing Tatum) who wants to convince her that he’s more than a hot bod. This is explicit cast-to-type filmmaking, and the film is meant to evoke nostalgia for when films like this were Hollywood’s bread-and-butter and adults could be trusted to show up for adult/grown-up movies.
To the extent that Paramount’s The Lost City is being held up as one of the last chances for audiences to show up for something like this, it’s pretty damn fun. It’s funny and enjoyable, with sharp and witty dialogue, competent and genre-appropriate action (this isn’t The Rundown folks, but it gets the job done) and the sheer bliss of seeing glamorous movie stars doing their thing with a conventional Hollywood potboiler. It’s sad that The Lost City wins points for actually looking and feeling like a real movie, with copious locations, multiple speaking roles, actual subplots and crowd scenes with actual crowds, but, well, yes… Compared to Jungle Cruise, Uncharted and The Adam Project, the sheer size of this mid-budget (allegedly around $74 million) vehicle shows us what’s been missing in all but the very biggest tentpoles.
The two top-billed stars are in top form, with Bullock delivering her usual dry wit while still qualifying as a ridiculously good-looking movie star. Ditto peak-hunk Tatum, who plays “occasionally dimwitted but clever when he needs to be” as a lovesick puppy nursing a crush on his main revenue stream. Daniel Radcliffe is hamming it up and having a blast, especially in the opening act when he’s trying to pull off his evil plot (kidnapping Bullock to get her to lead him to a lost city before a volcano demolishes the island) sans actual villainy. The result comes off like a skewed variation on Albert Brooks’ Hank Scorpio from The Simpsons. Da’Vine Joy Randolph and Patti Harrison win laughs as Bullock’s publicists while Brad Pitt shows up for shits-and-giggles in an extended cameo as a mercenary professional rescuer.
There’s not that much to say about the movie other than it works. I appreciate how the film didn’t obsess upon relevant backstory, giving us just enough tidbits in relation to Bullock’s late archeologist husband and Radcliffe’s jealousy issues with his younger brother to provide shading, nuance and (where appropriate) comedy. Even Tatum’s eventual backstory is surprisingly grounded and not especially melodramatic. There might be monologues or flashbacks on the cutting room floor, but the film is able to use its 105 minute (plus credits) runtime to focus on the present tense storytelling and “reason for the season” star-powered action-comedy hijinks. Yes, it drags a little in the second act, but there is a refreshing variety in its storytelling, so it’s not just copious scenes of Bullock and Tatum wandering through various jungle sets.
Capably directed by Adam and Aaron Nee (whose Band of Robbers was an enjoyable VOD diversion) and benefiting from a disciplined screenplay courtesy of the Nee brothers, Oren Uziel and Dana Fox, The Lost City is just an enjoyable, star+concept rom-com adventure from when audiences showed up for movie stars and when a certain based foundational competency was par for the course in a mid-budget theatrical release. It’s not high art, and there are no larger themes beyond moving past personal loss and not judging books by their covers, but it is polished craft. A brief acknowledgment of progressive social mores gets gentle laughs, while the film never penalizes its lead for her occupation or her personal issues. The Lost City is a reminder of, and a strong example of, what we once took for granted at the multiplex.