Joyce Glasser reviews The Lost City (April 15, 2022) Cert 15, 112 mins.
The Lost City is the kind of guilty-pleasure, action-adventure-romcom that is becoming a rare, if not entirely an endangered species. In focusing on character, keeping the plot and violence to a minimum and refusing to take itself seriously, it’s an enjoyable romp and a great date movie – for all ages.
To set the stage, imagine if Agatha Christie, who accompanied her erudite archaeologist husband, Max Mallowan, on several excavations, decided to switch from murder mysteries to romance novels. Instead of a stodgy, starched, neurotic detective named Hercule Poirot, imagine that a muscular, young hunk with wild, blond caveman hair known as “Dash” appeared on the cover of her best sellers.
Or perhaps it’s simpler to imagine a loose adaptation of the 1984 action-adventure romcom Romancing the Stone, because, well, that’s what this is and no harm in that. In The Lost City Sandra Bullock takes on the role of Kathleen Turner in the 1984 film. She plays successful, but lonely, chick-lit writer Loretta Sage, who is dropped into one of her adventure yarns and proves quite adroit away from her computer.
In both films, there is a single and successful, but lonely female author, a kidnapping, a concerned female publishers/publicists and friend, a map leading to antiquities, cagey bad guys pursuing the heroine in the jungle, and a romantic interest who joins the fish-out-of-water heroine.
Romancing the Stone was the only produced screenplay of Malibu waitress Diane Thomas, 39, who died in a Topanga Canyon car crash a year after the film was released to critical and box office success. Her heroine dreamt of meeting a man as exciting as the heroes in her novels who have what it takes to save damsels in distress. In the jungle she finds rugged, cocky, self-confident bird hunter (Michael Douglas) who fits the bill, even if today a bird hunter would be a bad guy.
Directors Adam and Aaron Nee (The Last Romantic) co-wrote the script with Oren Uziel and Dana Fox from a story by Seth Gordon, have given the film a more feminist twist, with the running gag being that in this jungle we are never sure who is saving whom.
Despite Lorretta’s publicist Beth (Da’Vine Joy Randolph), having organised an expensive launch for her new book, The Lost City of D, Loretta, dressed in a pink sequin onesie and high heels, looks like she would rather be anywhere else. Trying to perch on a stool without tearing the skin-tight outfit, Loretta faces her public, breaking the news that the “D” in the title does not stand for Dash, the dashing hero of the story and the cover-model’s nick name.
The scholarly reason for the “D” bores her audience and disappoints them. It deflates cover-model Alan Caprison, AKA Dash McMahon, (Channing Tatum) who, like Loretta’s readers, is looking for a real-life romance. Dash is that muscular hunk with the caveman mane of blondish hair who erupts onto the podium trying to engage his
Alan/Dash is playing his role as Knight errant to perfection, so much so that he has started to believe it. The truth, that he’s an accident prone city boy, with allergies, fear of water, insecurity issues and the vulnerability that attracts women more than macho antics is revealed when Lorretta is kidnapped by Abigail Fairfax (Daniel Radcliffe).
And yes, Radcliffe’s first task is to explain the name, which would have been best left on the cutting room floor. Fairfax is your typical villain: an obsessed billionaire, and criminal who is convinced that Loretta’s knowledge of ancient writing will lead him to a lost treasure featured in one of her books – near a site that he is already excavating.
That Alan is in love with Loretta off the podium is apparent from his reaction to her kidnapping. When Beth cannot persuade law enforcement agencies of the urgency or of a kidnapping, Alan calls upon Jack Trainer (Brad Pitt) to train him for his task, and yes, there is a joke about Trainer the trainer. The two great moments of the film are when both Alan and, later, Loretta meet Jack, who is straight out of central casting. Their reactions, and Pitt’s straight face could be bottled and sold. Pitt’s small supporting role is a masterstroke, but also bit of a problem, as Channing has big shoes to fill.
Fortunately, the chemistry between Channing (Fox Catcher, Magic Mike, Jump Street) and Bullock (Gravity, The Blind Side, The Proposal) and their respective comic skills are enough to make up for Pitt’s brevity, the flimsy plot and slapdash roles for Beth and Radcliffe (who could also just be miscast). Both Da’Vine Joy Randolph and Radcliffe struggle to inject humour in clichéd characters that lack any original touches or any great lines.
Fairfax is never a real threat, but his henchmen chase Alan and Lorretta through the jungle with enough menace for our chalk and cheese couple to realise they need one another. In one erotically charged comic scene, she picks leaches off Alan’s bottom, and her reaction is a game-changer when, without thinking, she asks him to turn around to see if there are any on his front. Alan repays the favour with his clever idea to cut off bits of Lorretta’s flashy dress to use as a decoy.
What is interesting about The Lost City is that Bullock, whose amazing body is just as important to the film as Tatum’s, is a widow of 57 and age is never the issue in this romance with a man of 40. When Michael Douglas was in Romancing the Stone, he was 40 and Kathleen Turner was 30. Perhaps even Bullock wouldn’t have been cast for the role today, but Bullock the film’s Executive Producer is pushing some boundaries in the right direction.