Producers: Liza Chasin, Sandra Bullock and Seth Gordon Directors: Adam Nee and Aaron Nee Screenplay: Oren Uziel, Dana Fox, Adam Nee and Aaron Nee Cast: Sandra Bullock, Channing Tatum, Daniel Radcliffe, Da’Vine Joy Randolph, Oscar Nuñez, Patti Harrison, Héctor Aníbal, Thomas Forbes-Johnson, Joan Pringle and Brad Pitt Distributor: Paramount Pictures
Hollywood used to be able to pull off this sort of romantic action-adventure with a degree of panache—witness the movie’s obvious template, 1984’s “Romancing the Stone”—but “The Lost City” suggests it’s lost the touch. Despite the efforts of a game cast, the picture is a limp, laborious reminder of more enjoyable examples of the genre; even the effects are second-rate.
Sandra Bullock brings her most downbeat, disgusted air to Loretta Sage, a popular romance novelist depressed over the death of her archaeologist husband but pushed by her publicist Beth (Da’Vine Joy Randolph) into aggressively promoting her new book “The Lost City of D” alongside dim bulb cover model Alan Caprison (Channing Tatum), who dresses up as her handsome hero Dash McMahon and is secretly in love with her. After she bungles their show before an adoring audience, Loretta is kidnapped by wacked-out billionaire Abigail Fairfax (Daniel Radcliffe), who believes that she can help him locate a fabled treasure in the titular city of her novel, which he’s located on an island in the Atlantic—beside a volcano about to erupt.
Both Beth and Alan take off after Loretta, she on a jaunt that will bring her into league with an amorous pilot (Oscar Nuñez), and he with Jack Trainer (Brad Pitt), a true version of Dash who reluctantly allows Alan to accompany him. The latter two free Loretta from Fairfax’s clutches, but that leaves her and Alan on the run in the jungle from him and his henchmen, who recapture them. Eventually they wind up in an underground portion of the city where the legendary treasure is supposed to be found. By the time Beth arrives to rescue them, they’re in one another’s arms.
The makers of “The Lost City” work very hard to make it the grand frolic it’s supposed to be, but nothing goes as planned. The problems begin with the script by Oren Uziel and Dana Fox, along with sibling directors Adam and Aaron Nee. It’s a lazy piece of work, derivative by design but also woefully short of wit or charm. One doesn’t expect even a semblance of logic in such a ramshackle construct, but how is one to understand how, in one moment, Loretta explains to Fairfax that’s it’s impossible to decipher a shard of a pictoglyph he’s unearthed because doing so would require something akin to the Rosetta Stone that unlocked the key to understanding Egyptian hieroglyphics, only to have her present him with a translation the next morning? The instantaneous transformation of Caprison from klutzy wannabe to capable he-man is similarly jaw-dropping. Such deficiencies might have been compensated for by sparkling dialogue, but that doesn’t happen; the unfunny rants handed to Radcliffe’s smirking Fairfax are a signal case in point, but the banter between Loretta and Alan never approaches an “It Happened One Night” level.
The mediocrity of the writing is amplified by the Nees’ perfunctory direction; this is their first large-scale production, and much of the action is messy and lackadaisical. When they opt for two blaring shots of Tatum’s naked derriere for naughty laughs, you know they’re desperate, and the periodic switches to Beth’s separate journey are aggressively frantic and intrusive. (Randolph and Nuñez are reduced to embarrassing mugging.) Nor is the look of the picture particularly gratifying. Jim Bissell’s production design is okay and Jonathan Sela’s cinematography bright, but the modeling work and visual effects are pretty cheesy. Perhaps the intent was to create a live-action cartoon, but that would work only if there were laughs to go along with the images. Matters aren’t helped by Craig Alpert’s editing, which only intermittently brings some excitement, and Pinar Toprak’s bombastic score.
Of the cast, Pitt comes off best in his extended cameo, in which he gleefully spoofs his own hunky image and offers the movie’s sole surprise, which a credits coda unfortunately undermines. Otherwise things are fairly grim. Bullock’s dour pose has grown tiresome over the years, and her undoubted gift for physical slapstick is no longer sufficient compensation, even when she’s doing her pratfalls in a sequined dress and high heels. Her chemistry with Tatum, moreover, isn’t particularly strong, and while he works himself into a dither playing clumsy and inept, it’s to little avail. As noted, Radcliffe, Randolph and Nuñez fare even worse than the stars.
“The Lost City” is meant to be dumb fun; unfortunately, it offers a lot of the first, but very little of the second.