The Lost City Review: A Goofy Rom-Com Adventure Movie With Screwball Spirit And Himbo Charm

Sandra Bullock is our reigning screwball queen and god help anyone who tries to take her crown away. No currently-working actress is as game as she is to pull off a pratfall — backward and in high heels and a ridiculously bedazzled jumpsuit, too! And Bullock pulls off plenty of pratfalls in "The Lost City," Adam and Aaron Nee's old-school romantic adventure comedy that plays like "Romancing the Stone" for the "21 Jump Street" generation.

But first, we need to get to the "Romancing the Stone" of it all. "The Lost City," which follows Bullock's romance novelist as she winds up on a swashbuckling adventure straight out of her books, is almost beat-for-beat the plot of "Romancing the Stone" with a few tweaks. There's a kidnapping, a dashing adventurer, even a scene-stealing short king. But of all the recent attempts to revive that mid-budget star-driven comedy, "The Lost City" is the most successful.

That's because you can't make a movie like this — with a flimsy plot and an even flimsier grasp on reality — without star power. And "The Lost City" has it in spades. Bullock is a guarantee — leveraging her "America's Sweetheart" status from the '90s to make the transition from rom-com queen to Oscar nominee back to rom-com queen amid the genre's last gasps — but Channing Tatum is just as much a draw, if not more so. As the cover model who graces all of the novels of Bullock's Loretta Sage, Tatum is at his "himbo" best here, radiating a sweet but dopey leading man charm that only he can really carry off. Pairing Tatum's hapless cover model and Bullock's secretly savvy novelist makes "The Lost City" more than just a tired "Romancing the Stone" redux; it's a good old time at the movies.

A terrific cast marks the spot

Loretta Sage (Bullock) is a best-selling romance novelist who has become a recluse in the wake of her husband's death. At the urging of her publicist, Beth (Da'Vine Joy Randolph), Loretta squeezes out one more book in her popular romance-adventure series and reluctantly agrees to go on a book tour with her longtime cover model Alan Caprison (Tatum), the dimwitted embodiment of her Fabio-haired hero, Dash McMahon. But the first stop ends disastrously. First, Loretta reveals to her dismayed audience and publicity team that she intends to kill off her hero before Alan subsequently tumbles off the stage when Loretta gets her smartwatch stuck in his wig. And then, Loretta is kidnapped. Worst of it all, she's stuck in heels and an expensive sparkly jumpsuit.

Who is the person responsible for kidnapping an impractically dressed romance novelist? None other than billionaire sociopath Abigail Fairfax (an absolutely unhinged, utterly hysterical Daniel Radcliffe, who enters every scene as if he just finished doing a line of coke in the bathroom), who believes that Loretta's latest novel, "The Lost City of D," actually holds the clues to finding a real ancient lost city on an unknown island somewhere in the Atlantic. And his belief may hold some water — before she became a romance novelist, Loretta was a Ph.D. graduate who translated dead languages with her archaeologist husband. Now, Abigail wants Loretta to translate what he believes is the final clue to the whereabouts of a priceless crown.

Alan witnesses the kidnapping and urgently suggests a rescue operation to the beleaguered Beth and her clueless social media assistant (Patti Harrison, making a meal out of a tiny role). With the police refusing to help, Alan turns to his meditation retreat friend, Jack Trainer (Brad Pitt, almost comically handsome and skilled as the hyper-masculine adventurer type), a former Navy Seal trainer who quickly agrees to help rescue Loretta. But Alan wants to join him to prove to Loretta, who he has harbored a crush on for a while now, that he's more than just a dumb cover model.

Screwball with a screw slightly loose

All of these plot machinations fly by, because really, in a movie like this, who cares about the plot? "The Lost City" knows it's all about the hijinks between Bullock and Tatum, and rushes to bring the two of them together and plop them in the middle of the jungle. But it's to both the film's advantage and disadvantage that the rest of it doesn't really hold together, because when Bullock and Tatum aren't onscreen, the movie starts to sag. It's not that the supporting cast isn't up to the task — in fact, they're all more than game — but they're given precious little to do apart from serving up clichés. 

The movie does promise some depth with Loretta's grief over her husband's death, but it's not given quite the emotional oomph that it deserves. "The Lost City" ends up falling back on Bullock's slapstick skills (seriously, no one could make falling out of a hammock funnier) and Tatum's dopey charms, and for the most part, it works. Adam and Aaron Nee's script does have some bright spots as well, with clever one-liners and laugh-at-loud jokes that never feel mean or cheap. It's the first major Hollywood rom-com to have a sapiosexual gag, that's for sure.

Who said cliché should be a dirty word anyways? Some of the greatest appeals of romance novels are those clichés and tropes — enemies to lovers! There's only one bed! — and "The Lost City" embraces those wholeheartedly. There's a goofy sincerity to the movie even as it sends up better movies that came before it (complete with corny needle drops), and it retains that old Hollywood screwball spirit that gives it a timeless feeling. It's nothing new, and lord knows it's nothing groundbreaking, but boy, is it fun.

/Film Rating: 7.5 out of 10