“The Lost City” – Pretty, but dumb. No, wait, that’s pretty dumb.
Have you ever been to a comedy show or open mic night where the comedian absolutely bombed? That’s what The Lost City is, but with a little bit of silly action and a lot of hammy acting. I’m not saying it is completely unwatchable or cringe worthy like that tanking comedian. In fact, it has moments where it approaches fun. But you know you’re watching a bad movie when the actors are visibly laughing at the absurdity of their own movie during the movie. The Lost City is Romancing the Stone as seen through the eyes of a clown that hasn’t slept in three days.
(SPOILERS – Not much to spoil, so you’re probably in the clear.)
Loretta Sage (Sandra Bullock) is a depressed, widowed, middle-aged, romance novelist. Arguably the best scene of the film is the opening scene, where we find the two heroes of Loretta’s novels trapped in a temple ruin, surrounded by snakes, a villain, and his evil henchman. There is some soapy dialogue, then the heroine questions how all the snakes happened to be in the temple and why they weren’t biting any of the henchmen. We hear Loretta’s voice saying delete and elements of the scene start vanishing until nothing is left. We then cut to Loretta at her desk trying to work out how to end the book. This scene felt fresh and grabbed my attention. I thought we might get to see this happen several times throughout the film as Loretta searched for that perfect ending. Unfortunately, that was the one moment of cleverness in the film.
In an attempt to get Loretta out of her house and promote her new book, her publisher, Beth (Da’Vine Joy Randolph), badgers Loretta into going on a book tour. We jump to a dressing room, where Loretta is being primped for her appearance on a talk show. Loretta is wearing a hot pink, all sequin, onesie that even she questions the existence of. Her new social media manager, Allison (Patti Harrison) assures Loretta that this is what all the kids are wearing. Rather than fire the dipshit on the spot, Loretta accepts that she has been dressed like her grandmother’s lipstick and goes out on-stage. In fairness, Bullock tries to save the joke that is the unitard with some physical humor (struggling to get up on a tall stool), but the only joke is on her since she has to wear that outfit for most of the film.
Joining her on stage is Alan (Channing Tatum), the Fabio-like cover model for her books. Unlike Loretta, Alan actually wants to be on the stage because his entire career is making appearances as the books’ hero, Dash. The women in the audience ask a couple of questions, but are really just there to see Alan take his shirt off. And not just take it off, but have it ripped from his body by Loretta. Predictably, the movie tries to make another joke here by having Loretta get tangled in Alan’s hair, followed by Alan tumbling off the stage, leaving Loretta standing there holding Alan’s wig. You see, it’s always funny when a depressed neon crayon is left holding the long, blonde wig. Do you see the sleep-deprived clown now?
Thoroughly mortified, Loretta decides to leave and Alan follows her, trying to apologize and console her at the same time. The only problem is Alan is also kind of an imbecile and Loretta has nothing but contempt for him. Once outside the building, a car pulls up and Loretta thinks it’s the Uber she ordered. She gets in, only to realize she’s being kidnapped, and is taken to see Abigail Fairfax (Daniel Radcliffe), an eccentric billionaire who believes Loretta can help him find an ancient treasure called the crown of fire. Prior to writing romance novels, Loretta had studied archaeology and her late-husband was also an archaeologist. So, all of her romance novels double as action romps in jungle and ruins, but with heaving breasts and bulging packages.
This is also the part of the movie that really turned me against it. It was bad enough to see Bullock forced into the adult equivalent of Ralphie’s bunny pajamas, but why did she need to be kidnapped as plan A? To make matters worse, the film tries its comedy again by commenting on Abigail being a gender neutral name and Abigail having two brothers also with female-not-female names. The only thing missing from the scene is a 1950s clown honking its own nose.
Since Loretta refuses to help Abigail, he drugs her and takes her to the island where he believes the crown is hidden. Meanwhile, having witnessed her initial kidnapping, Alan decides to mount a rescue attempt. He and Beth hire an ex-Navy SEAL named Jack Trainer (Brad Pitt) and Alan is supposed to meet Jack to provide him information. Alan insists on going with Jack because he is in love with Loretta. Like you must with all romance literature, just go with it.
In addition to being a nincompoop, Alan is also a klutz. This doesn’t work on any level because he’s Channing Tatum. In one scene, he struggles to put a tiny suitcase into the back of the truck, despite looking like he could bench press the truck, then is dancing with Loretta as smooth as silk in a later scene. Again, he’s Channing Tatum. We could believe him being a dope, but not uncoordinated. On the plus side, the closest this film ever comes to being funny is because Tatum has gotten better at his timing.
Besides that opening scene, the other worthwhile scene is when Jack (with Alan in tow) infiltrates Abigail’s camp to rescue Loretta. It’s a very good action scene and features the solid comedic timing from Tatum I mentioned. If the film had done more scenes like this and less like the pink nightmare, it would have been much more fun to watch.
As it was, the film could have been a whole lot worse. It’s the kind of romantic comedy that’s been missing from theaters for quite some time and I’m not sure if that’s a good or bad thing. Despite it having some insulting bad humor and giving us characters with several unappealing traits, I did find myself enjoying it every now and then. It’s just really disappointing to see a movie introduce a clever concept – the movie acting as a mirror for Loretta’s book – then abandoning the concept altogether. Maybe next time let the clown sleep instead of forcing him to tell jokes.
Rating: Ask for seven dollars back and an apology to Bullock for dressing her like Barbie’s tampon.