‘The Lost City’: Sandra Bullock squanders her screwball skills on a flat action rom-com
Only fans of the lightest, dopiest comedy could enjoy star’s hit-and-miss banter and muddled jungle courtship with Channing Tatum.
Let’s start with the jumpsuit. The glittery, spangly, skintight, plunging-neckline, raspberry-colored jumpsuit Sandra Bullock sports throughout much of the loud and unfunny and flat and derivative “Romancing the Stone” knockoff “The Lost City,” as if she’s wandered in from a mediocre 1980s sitcom. Bullock’s Loretta Sage is wedged into that ridiculously constrictive garment as she tries to mount a barstool-type seat onstage, as she’s kidnapped, as she attempts to escape her captors, as she stumbles through the jungle, etc., etc., etc.? Isn’t that HILARIOUS?
Eh. Maybe for some. Comedy is comedy and if you find this sort of light and dopey material humorous, have at it. Nothing wrong with an iced venti non-fat frothy drink of forgettable escapism. “The Lost City” is completely harmless as it attempts to revisit past-generation romantic comedy/action adventures such as the aforementioned “Stone,” “Six Days, Seven Nights,” “King Solomon’s Mines,” “The Mummy” and of course “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” but it’s so cartoonishly over the top that it bears no resemblance to anything that could ever happen in the real world.
Despite the game efforts of the star-studded cast, the dialogue often crash-lands with a resounding thud, the action sequences are muddled and rote, and it hedges its bets to the point that one of the best bits in the movie—one of the few times the scriptwriters do something fresh and original—is completely undercut by a mid-credits sequence, as if the filmmakers didn’t want to see that one fabulously dark moment all the way through, lest anyone accuse them of even trying to be edgy.
Paramount Pictures presents a film directed by Adam Nee and Aaron Nee and written by the Nees, Oren Uziel and Dana Fox. Rated PG-13 (for violence and some bloody images, suggestive material, partial nudity and language). Running time: 120 minutes. Opens Tuesday at local theaters.
In the maudlin setup for “The Lost City,” we learn Bullock’s Loretta, a romance novelist with a serious background in history and dead languages, has been wallowing in a self-loathing, deep funk for some five years, ever since the death of her archaeologist husband. Loretta is sleepwalking through life and hates her career, as she considers her work to be trash and views her legions of fans with condescension.
Grumbling and protesting every step of the way, Loretta has been talked into squeezing herself into that garish jumpsuit (we’re told that’s the style these days for book tours, or some such nonsense) at the urging of her publicist, Beth (Da’Vine Joy Randolph), who has also hired a social media manager named Pratt Caprison (the wonderful Patti Harrison, wasted), who Insta-Tik-Toks-Whatevers every moment, capping off her comments with “Hashtag Shawn Mendes,” cuz, you know, the kids.
Loretta takes the stage with her longtime be-wigged, dimwitted and Fabio-like cover model Dash—real name Alan (Channing Tatum)—who makes his entrance to the sounds of the bombastic stadium rocker “The Final Countdown,” and I guess we’re supposed to take that as an homage to Will Arnett as Gob already mining that particular routine to perfection in “Arrested Development”? Anyway.
Things go horribly wrong, Loretta storms out—and she’s kidnapped by henchmen working for Daniel Radcliffe’s Abigail Fairfax (“It’s gender neutral!” he howls), the sweaty, weak-willed, billionaire oddball son of a world-famous media mogul. Abigail has become unhinged because his brother has been chosen as the company’s heir apparent, but he’ll show everyone when he gains possession of the legendary Crown of Fire, an ancient treasure he knows to be somewhere on a remote island. Abigail could hire any number of highly trained archaeologists to interpret the swath of cuneiform he has obtained, but he kidnaps Loretta so we’ll have a movie.
Thanks to the GPS on Loretta’s Apple Watch, made by Apple, and did we mention it’s an Apple Watch, Beth and Alan are able to ascertain Loretta’s location. They enlist the help of Alan’s acquaintance and former meditation class partner, a former Navy SEAL named Jack Trainer (Brad Pitt) who actually possesses the skills Dash displays in Loretta’s romance novels. With the squeamish, bumbling, cowardly but determined Alan tagging along (and Beth lagging behind but trying to reach the island as well), Jack knocks out a dozen henchmen and rescues Loretta, but then he’s separated from the story and it’s just Loretta and Alan out in the jungle (principal photography took place in the Dominican Republic), bickering and bantering and stumbling and falling and dealing with leeches and getting shot at and just maybe—JUST MAYBE—learning enough about each other to the point where a romance could develop. Meanwhile, Beth is flouncing around as the Wisecracking Black Best Friend, trying her best to reach Loretta and having no luck with various law enforcement types, who you’d think would have some interest in the kidnapping of a high-profile romance novelist, but no.
Bullock knows her way around screwball comedy with the best of ’em and Tatum has displayed a charming way with self-deprecating humor since the first “21 Jump Street,” and they have decent if not particularly sizzling chemistry together. “The Lost City” breezes along in predictable fashion, touching all the familiar bases of this genre, as the scowling Abigail and his helpless henchmen pursue Loretta and Alan, and oh, there’s a volcano that’s about to erupt. If only Loretta and Alan could have unearthed a more interesting story, we might have had something.