What makes a movie “good”? People’s answers will surely vary, depending on what they are looking for in a movie: great cinematography or stunning visuals, a transporting story, or a football in the groin. In the case of The Lost City, the rom-com slash adventure film starring Sandra Bullock and Channing Tatum, the answer they shot for was: Set the bar low and hit it.
The Lost City, directed by the sibling team of Aaron and Adam Nee, isn’t trying anything too ambitious. This is a movie that simply wants to hit its marks of getting a few laughs, presenting some halfway decent action, and kindling a touch of romantic tension between its two marquee Hollywood leads, before retiring to an easy post-theatrical life of playing five afternoons a week on TBS.
Here, Bullock plays Loretta Sage, a successful romance novelist struggling both with the passing of her archaeologist husband and a severe case of writer’s block. These two issues are connected, not simply because her depression is feeding her inability to write, but because her plots are all based on the historical research that she and her husband produced together.
Tatum plays Alan Caprison, the well-meaning but dopey model who portrays the likeness of “Dash McMahon,” the hero of Loretta’s stories. He also happens to be in love with Loretta, which, while obvious, earns some credit for flipping the usual gender dynamic of the age gap in these films.
Early scenes revolve around standard bickering between the two leads, and the desperate attempts of Beth, Loretta’s publicist played by Da’Vine Joy Randolph, to wrangle them through a train wreck of a book tour. The plot truly kicks in, however, when Loretta is kidnapped by nut-job billionaire Abigail Fairfax.
Fairfax, played by Daniel Radcliffe – perhaps best known for playing the corpse in Swiss Army Man – believes that the research underlying Loretta’s latest silly romance novel has uncovered the secret to a true-to-life hidden treasure, and he will stop at nothing to claim it for himself. Alan, having witnessed the kidnapping, sets out to rescue Loretta, both because it’s the right thing to do (of course) and also to prove to her that he is more than just a pretty face.
That’s the basic plot of The Lost City, and odds are good that from that description, most of you are now able to construct the rest of the movie in your heads. There are very few surprises in this film. Still, it is a movie that is pleasant enough and competently made. The directing is slick, and the actors are among the top of the Hollywood heap for the kind of story being told here.
Bullock, of course, manages to balance her awkward, lonely early scenes with the burgeoning confidence and attraction that come later. Tatum is reliably funny as a dunce with a heart of gold.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Brad Pitt. Yes, Brad Pitt is in this movie, playing a former Navy SEAL named Jack Trainer. Pitt’s presence in the film was a delightful interlude. I would have loved it if the cameo had been kept a surprise, but he’s in all the trailers, so I knew it was only a matter of time before he showed up. When he finally did, he did not disappoint. At this point in his career, Pitt knows how to do comedy—he’s the funniest part of the film—and his action scenes are also top-notch.
The only negative I can pin on Pitt’s presence in the film is that it set up one of the most bizarre, nonsensical post-credits scenes I have ever witnessed. I think I subconsciously docked the movie an entire star for it.
Radcliffe, meanwhile, is a slightly more challenging case to judge. He’s fine in the role, but throughout the movie, I kept wondering when he was going to stop being so reserved, rip off the mask of “gentleman gangster,” and go full-on crazy. He never does. That strikes me as a wasted opportunity, as he has shown himself to be quite talented in roles that let him unleash his nuttier side and really chew some scenery.
That last critique is applicable to the movie as a whole, in a way. The entire movie is fine, it’s always “good enough.” Yet from start to finish I kept feeling a nagging sense that it would have been better if it had embraced its inner silliness just a little bit more. If some scenes had just gone a little more over the top, just been a bit weirder, the entire movie would have benefitted. The fact is, two hours after leaving the theater, I was already having difficulty remembering the film. That’s not what you want. Better to aim a little higher and fail than play it successfully, unmemorably safe.
But that’s just me.
The Lost City earns 2.5 out of 5 Swiss Army Men.
It is out in wide release at theaters now.