The trailers for The Lost City filled me with dread. I feared an expensive, gauche knock-off of Romancing the Stone, Indiana Jones, and a half-dozen other, better movies. And don’t get it twisted–this movie still ain’t gonna make anybody throw down their crutches and walk. Still, a talented, high-dollar cast buys right into this film’s refined sense of goofiness, and a few of the one-liners almost brought an audible chuckle outta me. In short, The Lost City is a passably entertaining way to kill 112 minutes of your time. Now, you’ll have to figure out whether I just paid this movie the rudest compliment or the nicest insult.
City centers on Loretta Sage (Sandra Bullock), a misanthropic author who’s made a mint cranking out beach-blanket romance novels. These salacious potboilers feature the humid adventures of Dr. Angela Lovemore, a globe-trotting archaeologist. Dash McMahon serves as her studly sidekick and sexy-time dance partner. As the film begins, Loretta has burned out of this trashy little world she’s created. We learn that Loretta was once a serious archaeologist herself, but the death of her husband put a damper on her career. Their research papers generated little interest, so Loretta channeled her grief into these pulp novels. Now, the money rolls in, and fans clamor to meet her. Unfortunately, Loretta has long settled into the emotional doldrums.
Once Loretta finishes her latest Lovemore novel, she dutifully troops out to do publicity. For this, she teams up with Alan Caprison (Channing Tatum), who serves as the Fabio-esque cover model for Dash. While Loretta can barely muster the enthusiasm to smile and wave for the crowd, Alan cheerfully twirls his flowing blonde wig and bounces his burly pecs. Thirsty crowds chant for him to tear off his clothes. Somewhere in this mayhem, Loretta announces that she is going to wrap up the series. She’s tired of it all. Her flummoxed publisher (Da’Vine Joy Randolph) quickly ends the event and whisks Loretta away to regain her senses.
Loretta wearily wanders from the building and waits for a car to take her to the next gig. An SUV pulls up, and two muscly dudes bully her into the back seat. Turns out, this isn’t part of the tour at all. Just as Alan runs outside, Loretta is abducted by unknown villains.
This kidnapping is the handiwork of Abigail Fairfax (Daniel Radcliffe), the squirrelly scion of a family of media billionaires. Abigail is petty, insecure, and hungry for validation. (The film makes a joke of his “gender-neutral” name, and it lands with a thud.) He pleads with Loretta for help finding the Crown of Fire, which apparently has immense value. (Didn’t Radcliffe already look for this damn thing in the Twi-Wizard Tournament?) Naturally, she refuses. So, he chloroforms her like a silent movie villain and takes her to the remote jungle island where the artifact is hidden.
Meanwhile, Alan frantically organizes a rescue. He remembers a guy from his meditation classes who might have been a Navy Seal. This guy turns out to be Jack Trainer (Brad Pitt), and he makes Jason Bourne look like Pee-Wee Herman. Jack volunteers his bad-assery to save Loretta and heads for the island. Alan desperately wants to win Loretta’s favor, so he insists on tagging along. As you might guess, things go haywire the minute these two hit the island.
Did I say this movie knocks off half a dozen others? It’s more like twenty. Aside from the obvious references above, you can also spot The African Queen, Gunga Din, The Goonies, Treasure of the Sierra Madre, and many more. Hell, even the idea of real characters forced to act out their fictitious counterparts feels a bit like Galaxy Quest. (And Quest owes a debt to everything from Three Amigos to The Magnificent Seven, the latter of which derives from The Seven Samurai.)
To paraphrase an old saying: Good artists borrow; the great ones steal. Artistic shoplifting isn’t necessarily a deal-breaker. It’s all in the execution. To its great credit, The Lost City wears its shamelessness like a badge of honor. Brother-directors Adam and Aaron Nee infuse their film with a wacky, freewheeling sense of humor. At no point does City take itself seriously; even the characters seem aware they’re inhabiting a work of sheer silliness. This approach doesn’t exempt a movie from criticism, but it is tough to puncture a production when it’s already skewering itself.
The performers enhance this vibe with solid comedic skills. Bullock’s credentials are well-established, and she plays the likable bitch with unsurprising precision. Tatum gets to riff on his own hunkiness–so does Pitt, for that matter–and shows Alan as a dim bulb just waiting for the right moment to shine. The two leads work remarkably well together, and make their crackling chemistry look easy. (For contrast, check out the shrieking, obnoxious hooey of The Hitman’s Bodyguard.) As the spoiled British brat, Radcliffe gobbles the scenery like it’s slathered in vinaigrette. Randolph’s high-strung publisher feels a bit cliché, but the actress has fun with a couple of juicy monologues.
All that adds up to a movie that’s good-looking, well-acted, and thoroughly forgettable. If a classic movie has three great scenes and no bad scenes, then The Lost City delivers a few decent scenes scattered throughout a thoroughly mediocre story. See? No matter what, I just keep damning this film with faint praise. Maybe I’m secretly telling you to stream Raiders of the Lost Ark or Jewel of the Nile instead.
112 min. PG-13. Paramount+.