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The Lost City
Directed by Aaron Nee and Adam Nee
Written by Oren Uziel, Dana Fox, Aaron Nee and Adam Nee
Starring Sandra Bullock, Channing Tatum and Daniel Radcliffe
Classification PG; 112 minutes
Opens in theatres March 25
Midway through the new rom-com The Lost City, Channing Tatum’s hero with the heart of a lunk and the chest of a hunk offers an impassioned defence of schlock. If it makes people happy, then what’s the problem? Tatum’s character, a Fabio-esque cover model who decides to play real-life hero when his employer-slash-collaborator (played by Sandra Bullock) is kidnapped, is talking about the cultural value of Harlequin-y romance novels. But it’s hard to not read the bit as a meta plea from The Lost City’s own filmmakers. Sure, this is fluffy fantasy. But if you’re having fun, then just stop overthinking it and enjoy the show!
The only problem: The Lost City believes it is a lot more fun than it actually is. The movie isn’t a guilty pleasure so much as a pleasure-lite guilt trip – a relentlessly and eventually exhausting middle-ground effort that is made all the more frustrating because it is so very close to reaching the platonic ideal of schlock. With just one more (maybe two) punch-ups, The Lost City could have been a sweet and salty screwball adventure in the vein of its obvious inspirations: the twin 1980s hits Romancing the Stone and The Jewel of the Nile. As it lands, though, The Lost City is all schlock-talk, no schlock-action.
The first sign of trouble that The Lost City wouldn’t live up to its own stated goals: its producers scrapped its original title, The Lost City of D. That “D” (which could stand for whatever your R-rated imagination might like) hinted at a more ribald, wink-wink sense of humour that seems similarly scrubbed from the movie. Every so often, the film lets slip a one-liner that’s slightly frisky, or a gag that’s just a half-notch above risque. But these asides – some of which seem almost slipped into the proceedings during post-production – are The Lost City’s exceptions, not its rules. Which is what the film plays by, time and again: the safe rules of a contemporary big-budget rom-com, all sanded down and forgettable.
The film opens well enough, setting up a sharp opposites-attract dynamic between high-minded romance novelist Loretta (Bullock) and dim-bulb cover model Alan (Tatum, the only man alive who can make the name Alan seem sexy; letter writers, please note that Alan Rickman is no longer with us). While on tour to promote her latest book, Loretta – still healing from the death of her adventurer husband five years ago – is abducted by a wealthy megalomaniac (Daniel Radcliffe) who believes that the writer holds the key to unlocking a treasure hidden on an Atlantic island. So, off goes Alan to the rescue, convinced that he can be just as courageous as the character he frequently pretends to be during photo-shoots.
The premise, which has passed through five writers, is decently clever. But as directed by brothers Adam and Aaron Nee, The Lost City flails wildly, hitting roughly 25 per cent of its marks. For every joke that lands (there is a good running bit about how mummies aren’t monsters, and one “mansplaining” punchline that works in spite of its premise) there are three more in badly need of workshopping. Loretta and Alan’s central quest also feels less like a rollicking adventure and more an endurance test – mortal danger and sexual tension are swapped for ho-hum obstacle and chaste mooning. And whenever their journey inches toward interesting territory, the Nee brothers cut to a desperately unfunny B-plot involving Loretta’s publisher (Da’Vine Joy Randolph, saddled with some truly embarrassing dialogue), who is embarking on her own rescue mission.
At least the cast is more than game. After similar shticks in his Jump Street series, Tatum once again proves that he is the ultimate thinking man’s dummy, lampooning his perfect looks with charming ease. Bullock seems more annoyed here than usual – perhaps she’s wondering why Tatum got all of the script’s best lines – but still gives fizzy life to the straight-woman role. And the Nee brothers are smart enough to populate their supporting cast with a murderer’s row of comic performers, including Patti Harrison as Loretta’s social-media consultant, Oscar Nunez as a local fixer and one megastar whose appearance I won’t spoil (even if most of the film’s marketing material already has).
As far as star-powered, high-budget schlock goes, you could do worse (say, the algorithmically programmed escapist fare currently streaming elsewhere). But you could also do a whole lot better – a whole lot top-tier schlockier – too. Go get lost, just not here.