Whether or not you’re among those who have been asking, “Why aren’t there more globetrotting adventure comedies,” Hollywood has seemingly been looking to rectify this in recent years. In the past year, Jungle Cruise, Red Notice, and Uncharted have all attempted to dig into the thrills, laughs, and even romance akin to Raiders of the Lost Ark or Romancing the Stone. The Lost City joins the fray as one of the most successful attempts from this batch, even if it puts all the reliance on the cast’s charisma, as opposed to the whole show.
The overall plot is nothing too exciting, but the setup has some refreshingly new angles. Sandra Bullock stars as Loretta Sage, a widowed best-selling romance novelist. She is kidnapped by Daniel Radcliffe’s Abigail Fairfax, an eccentric billionaire who believes Loretta’s research behind her adventure novels may be the key to locating a treasure in a lost city on an island in the Atlantic. Not wanting her to come into harm’s way, Channing Tatum’s Alan Caprison (better known by many as Dash McMahon, the cover model for Loretta’s novels) goes on a rescue mission. Soon enough, both are stuck on the island, running away from Fairfax and his team, with few survival skills shared between them.
Credit where it’s due, while the story by Seth Gordon is riffing on several adventure films that have come before it, The Lost City is doing what it can to merely rip-off as opposed to remake. The concept is its own thing. At its best, Bullock and Tatum bring all the energy needed in their interactions while getting through random bits of jungle mayhem. Not hurting is a game supporting crew that goes as far as making the ridiculous elements much easier to digest. There may not be much in subversion that isn’t all that predictable, but the fun is evident mostly throughout.
Radcliffe may be doing whatever the plot requires of him, but the dash of madness in his eyes that increases over the course of the film is fun to see, along with his general attitude as the villain. Da’Vine Joy Randolph is also very funny as Loretta’s publicist, who ends up being a reliable cutaway as far as her subplot in this film. The same can be said for Patti Harrison, as far as random bits of absurdity given to her social media manager character.
Most notably, as the advertisements couldn’t wait to reveal this, Brad Pitt turns up early on as a former Navy Seal tasked with rescuing Loretta. Given the role and Pitt’s ability to play this type of character straight yet make it hilarious, all of his scenes are very funny. Obviously, that means he can’t be taking up the whole film, so the elevated nature of his character in his short run is enjoyable but leaves me of two minds, knowing that the film can’t sustain him for too long without drowning out the leads.
Once the film really does become all about Bullock and Tatum together, however, a lot works in a way that calls on other memorable screen pairings. I only really take issue with the film’s inability to connect these two characters with the romantic version of what would arise in one of Loretta’s novels. As it stands, this is another adventure-romance where the romance feels tacked on because “that’s what usually happens,” as opposed to just letting these characters work on their own accord.
This is especially noticeable in the film’s sagging middle section when it’s not just enough to see Loretta and Alan deal with the obstacles of the jungle but also force them into situations that convey some level of drama and personal growth. Sure, it’s great to have character development to whatever degree, but for a slapstick comedy like this, easing back on the greater meaning of it all is not the worst thing for a film that could be a cleaner 90-100 minutes, as opposed to feeling close to two hours. Not helping is seeing how patched together things can be at times with noticeable ADR and reshot scenes, making me wonder how much the tone may have evolved during the making of the film.
Back to what works – The Lost City looks pretty good thanks to the efforts of directors Adam and Aaron Nee (Check out their previous film, Band of Robbers). It may not be a genre-defying entry for globetrotting adventures. However, at a more modestly budgeted price, it still manages to look leagues better than some much costlier efforts. In many instances, it feels like a real-deal movie thanks to a mix of real locations, extras, solid production design, and an effort to create visible stakes amid comedic hijinks. Yes, filming during the pandemic has had its ups and downs on various movie shoots, but the effort shows here.
While the story may be pretty thin, The Lost City has many enjoyable qualities that make it consistently entertaining. Even with the insertion of romance and drama at the expense of a stronger comedy, I was largely happy with the overall results. Bullock and Tatum are entirely in their comedic zones when it comes to where they can really excel. The supporting cast adds plenty of fun to the proceedings as well. All of that led to an amusing matinee experience, with just enough cleverness to be appreciated. Perhaps not the brightest jewel in the Nile, but I smiled anyway.