The Lost City review: a modern, swashbuckling take on rom-coms

Sandra Bullock and Channing Tatum star in Paramount Pictures' "THE LOST CITY."
Sandra Bullock and Channing Tatum star in Paramount Pictures' "THE LOST CITY." /

Sandra Bullock and Channing Tatum struggle to stay alive (and survive each other) in The Lost City, a swashbuckling rom-com with surprising wit.

The last film on Sandra Bullock’s schedule before she steps away from acting, the swashbuckling action rom-com The Lost City (which co-stars Channing Tatum), hits theaters this weekend following its global premiere South by Southwest earlier this month. Though the film doesn’t often break from convention or deliver many surprises in terms of plot or character beats, The Lost City is a remarkably feminist take on classic action-adventure romances like Romancing the Stone or The Mummy, anchored by the undeniable comedic talent and romantic chemistry between leads Sandra Bullock and Channing Tatum.

The film follows Loretta Sage (Bullock), a burnt-out romance novelist struggling to finish her latest novel as she mourns the death of her archeologist husband. Loretta is roped into a book tour by her publicist Beth (Da’Vine Joy Randolph) and finds out (much to her dismay) that she’ll be touring alongside her good-hearted but inept cover model Alan (Tatum). However, when an eccentric billionaire Abigail Fairfax (Daniel Radcliffe, in a role eerily similar to his turn in Now You See Me 2) kidnaps Loretta under the belief that her novel holds the key to uncovering real-life buried treasure, Alan rushes to her rescue, enlisting the help of Navy Seal Jack Trainer (Brad Pitt) along the way.

While the plot certainly isn’t reinventing the wheel, something is refreshing about The Lost City‘s approach to character and dialogue that makes a well-worn narrative feel new again: mostly thanks in large part to the dynamic established between Loretta and Alan. Typically in these types of films, one-half of the odd couple is capable in the wilderness (your Humphrey Bogart in The African Queen types) and acts as a guide to the more book smart city slicker. Here, though, neither Alan nor Loretta is all that capable in the jungle. And though Loretta has her knowledge of ancient languages, there’s never a significant disparity between them when it comes to physical prowess.

If anything, Loretta also outclasses Alan when it comes to survival skills – so much so that despite his beefy exterior, he ends up planning the comic fool to her straight man, a choice that makes Alan a much more engaging character. Channing Tatum is a rare type of leading man in that he has no qualms whatsoever being the butt of the joke – and coupled with his deceptively impressive comedic talents, he brings a surprising amount of likability to Alan. Though he may be more at home in a CrossFit class than on a deserted island, his genuine affection for Loretta and remorse at pushing her away makes him easy to root for, and a fresh take on a worn-out stereotype.

Bullock, on the other hand, sticks to more conventional character archetypes – the studious, world-weary academic who’s entirely unfamiliar with the jungle, but determined to push through and reach her goal (in this case, to honor the memory of her late husband). By design, she’s less charming and charismatic than Tatum’s Alan, but she’s by no means a dry character, either – she has plenty of snappy dialogue and sarcastic one-liners to toss around, especially when playing off Daniel Radcliffe’s dastardly villain, or Da’Vine Joy Randolph and Patti Harrison as her managerial team.

Speaking of Harrison and Randolph, the duo does an admirable job of holding down the fort whenever the film cuts away from jungle antics – Randolph in an achingly familiar and all-to-relatable role as Loretta’s exasperated manager, who ends up on an unwilling adventure of her own in her attempts to rescue Loretta. Patti Harrison, too, is a welcome addition to any cast and drops some of the film’s best one-liners as Loretta’s out-of-touch social media manager.

While those on the hunt for complex narratives or high-octane action will be left disappointed, The Lost City still manages to wedge in a few surprises and genuinely unexpected – many of which come from Brad Pitt’s scene-stealing badass Jack Trainer. Though Daniel Radcliffe’s villain Abigail is about as unremarkable and one-note as they come, the chemistry between Bullock and Tatum makes The Lost City a fresh, remarkably funny take on a familiar story.

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