By Elias Savada.
A ridiculous, fun-filled romp about an illusion behind an illusion.”
We’re overdue for some Sandra Bullock silliness. After her recent excursions in dramatic horror (Bird Box, 2018) and last year’s crime drama The Unforgivable, both direct-to-streaming on Netflix, she/we needed some big screen romantic comedy relief she hasn’t offered in over a decade, since 2009’s All About Steve. The Lost City, a silly jungle laugher which also features Channing Tatum and Daniel Radcliffe, is a pushed-off-the-road-trip that really feels like the cast and crew had a blast making this adventure down in the Dominican Republic, even with covid still ravaging the planet. It is time to share that fun at your local cineplex.
For me — and anyone who remembers the 1980s — this action-adventure flick harkens back to the Tarzanesque treasure hunting zaniness of Romancing the Stone, with Michael Douglas and Kathleeen Turner as jungle buddies. He as a rugged American ex-pat living in Colombia and she as a lonely romance novelist. No doubt this film was discussed when the four people credited with The Lost City‘s screenplay (Oren Uziel and Dana Fox and Adam Nee & Aaron Nee) were pasting their tale together. For, lo and behold, Bullock’s Loretta Sage is, yes, a lonely romance novelist, albeit one that has suffered the loss of her husband and advancing bouts of burn out.
No, I’m not gonna cry plagiarism. Two different plots as far as I’m concerned. Just saying.
Bullock, also one of the producers (another professional gig she’s honed over the last two decades), has been game for action since her breakout side-kick role opposite Keanu Reeves in 1994’s Speed. She has a knack in The Lost City for a similar fish-out-of-water physical and pratfall chemistry with Tatum, no stranger to comedy himself. Among the male actor’s former jobs has been a model for many fashion lines, so he’s got the right moves for his role as cover beefcake Alan. Initially he’s the perfect example of beauty over brains, even believing he shares equal credit for the romance novels’ successes. And the film enforces that notion when they make a joint appearance at the start of the book tour for The Lost City of D (the film’s pre-release title). Opposite Loretta’s dour expressions, Alan arrives cosplaying the Fabio-style hero “Dash” from the pulp stories that she has been churning out for her fans year in and year out. Her mental rut is only exacerbated when she finally realizes her readers are seemingly buying the books mostly for the sexy covers.
You’re asking, wait, isn’t Bullock old enough to be, like, his older sister. Block that thought. Sure, maybe she’s got a little too much makeup on while they romp through the outback on a remote mid-Atlantic tropical island, but enjoy it for the fun. Their predicament is hoisted on her by the exquisitely attired and quite petulant billionaire Abigail Fairfax (Daniel Radcliffe in supremely funny cartoon Boris Badenov mode), who kidnaps her on the belief she can help him find a particular ancient artifact called the “crown of fire” in this far-off locale, where he has secretly be excavating. Alan — with the help of one very, very amusing cameo by Brad Pitt, as a long-haired former Navy SEAL/meditation guru with hostage retrieval experience — heads there to rescue her and be the true hero she fantasies about.
The Nee brothers direct this affair with two pairs of eyes that focus on that faux/real connection between the model/writer and their fictional, literary counterparts. The filmmakers often switch from one harried reality to the swashbuckling other, visualizing whimsical daydreams that complement the steamy jungle adventure as the two leads try to outrun Fairfax’s well-armed henchmen.
And then there’s Bullock’s outlandish wardrobe, a sequined fuchsia onesie foisted on Loretta by her pushy but supportive boss and best friend, Beth (Da’Vine Joy Randolph), for that early film appearance pushing the author’s latest steamy fiction featuring Dash and Dr. Angela Lovemore, Loretta’s book heroine. Thank you costume designer Marlene Stewart for this jumpsuit from hell. Bullock loved it, “Most of all, it’s the most awkward and uncomfortable thing to see Loretta Sage wearing. I thought that was really funny.”
Chases and leeches abound. The latter when the couple wade through a jungle pond and a freaked-out Alan is beside himself as the creatures have latched onto his back and — in one of the film’s funnier moments — on his backside (shown in its PG-13 “partial nudity” glory).
Aside from a befuddling mid-end credits sequence that was possibly added on to suggest more adventures await these adventurous folks, The Lost City is a ridiculous, fun-filled romp about an illusion behind an illusion. Bullock can save my world any day and Tatum is that lovable hunk of a well-chiseled lunk of a guy. I’ll gladly party with them again in any city, lost or not.
Elias Savada is a movie copyright researcher, critic, craft beer geek, and avid genealogist based in Bethesda, Maryland. He helps program the Spooky Movie International Movie Film Festival, and previously reviewed for Film Threat and Nitrate Online. He is an executive producer of the horror film German Angst and the documentary Nuts! He co-authored, with David J. Skal, Dark Carnival: the Secret World of Tod Browning (a revised edition will be published by Centipede Press).