Review: Sandra Bullock and Channing Tatum go enjoyably neo-screwball in ‘The Lost City’
Midway through the tomb-raiding, car-crashing, butt-baring shenanigans of “The Lost City,” Channing Tatum pauses to remind Sandra Bullock not to judge a book by its cover. It’s an apt cliché: She plays Loretta Sage, the author of a series of popular romance novels; he’s Alan, the stud whose ripped chest and Fabio wig have helped sell her paperbacks to millions of happy readers. To Loretta, Alan is an incompetent himbo with delusions of grandeur and certainly the last fool she’d want to be stuck with on a wild and crazy jungle adventure. But like a lot of Tatum characters (see the “Magic Mike” and “21 Jump Street” movies — seriously), he turns out to be smarter, deeper and more genuinely heroic than she expects.
So sure, don’t judge a book by its cover. I should note, however, that I may have committed an equivalent offense when I opted to check out “The Lost City”: The poster made it look kind of fun, and lo and behold, it is. It helps that the pairing of Bullock and Tatum — now that sounds like a law firm I’d hire, or at least a hoity-toity restaurant I’d eat at — is as delightful as you’d expect from two actors of such goofy charm and combustible energy. It also helps that the directors, Aaron and Adam Nee (“Band of Robbers”), have tailored this unapologetically derivative vehicle to their stars’ easygoing chemistry, taking what might have been a strained, clanging excuse for a mainstream action-comedy and investing it with, if not big belly laughs, then at least a refreshing sweetness of spirit.
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This may sound like a strange thing to say about a movie in which the male lead gets spattered with human viscera and attacked by blood-sucking leeches (though not, thankfully, in the same scene). But I’m getting ahead of the plot, which is a pleasant mix of the familiar, the preposterous and the familiarly preposterous.
Along with their co-writers, Oren Uziel and Dana Fox, the brothers Nee have rearranged the sturdy bones of “Romancing the Stone,” Robert Zemeckis’ 1984 adventure starring Michael Douglas and Kathleen Turner. Once again a pulp novelist finds herself lost in a distant jungle thanks to some treasure-hungry ne’er-do-wells, and once again a not-entirely-trustworthy man comes to her ostensible rescue. This variation on the formula has fewer crocodiles and more explosions; it also has a bonus extended cameo by Brad Pitt, briefly and amusingly sending up his own guy’s-guy nonchalance.
The action-comedy ‘The Lost City,’ starring Sandra Bullock, Channing Tatum and Daniel Radcliffe, brought warm, friendly star power to Austin, Texas.
The two lead roles have also been deftly customized, both to reflect a more 21st-century gender dynamic and to accommodate the yin-yang mix of Bullock’s smarts and Tatum’s sensitivity. Loretta may be a popular writer, but she also despises her work and most of her readers; she’s a serious-minded archaeologist by trade (so, sniff, was her late husband) with a specialty in dead languages. This (sort of) explains why she’s suddenly kidnapped, mid-book tour, by Alistair Fairfax (a very good Daniel Radcliffe), a wealthy media baron with a Murdoch-scion complex who flies her to his heavily guarded compound on a distant island, where she and she alone can locate the whereabouts of some storied El Dorado.
And so even as she has to traipse through the jungle in an impractical sequined jumpsuit as purple as her prose, Loretta is hardly a damsel in distress. And Bullock, having already bested an exploding bus in “Speed,” a failing spacecraft in “Gravity” and a suicidal epidemic in “Bird Box,” regards this out-of-nowhere abduction as if it were merely an ill-timed holiday. Loretta is better prepared to survive a deadly tropical adventure than, say, Alan, who nonetheless touchingly chases after her, determined to live up to the chivalry and heroism of his fictional alter ego.
And after a bumbling, grumbling fashion, he does. Alan isn’t much of a fighter, as we see in a few amusingly staged early action scenes, but his abiding sweetness gradually disarms Loretta, as does his habit of shedding clothing whenever narratively necessary (which is cheekily often). It also nudges “The Lost City” into a more pleasurably laid-back groove than you might expect. You wouldn’t call this movie understated, exactly: There are cars to crash, ancient treasures to uncover and bad men to incinerate, but Bullock and Tatum never seem in any particular hurry to get it all done.
They make an effortlessly watchable duo, whether they’re squeezing into a hammock or negotiating the gently bickersome neo-screwball rhythms of the dialogue. The other actors pick up nicely on their vibes, including Oscar Nuñez as a friendly guy with a goat and a terrific Da’Vine Joy Randolph as Loretta’s tirelessly loyal book agent, who knows all too well the value of romantic fantasies as shrewdly calculated as this one.
‘The Lost City’
Rated: PG-13, for violence and some bloody images, suggestive material, partial nudity and language
Running time: 1 hour, 52 minutes
Playing: Starts March 25 in general release
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