The phrase “they don’t make them like they used to” is floated around a lot with modern art, whether it is movies, books, television, or music. People say this because of their kinship to things from the past that get repackaged under the same premise in order to trick their audiences into seeing something new. This happens in almost every genre or subgenre within films, considering that it is hard to make something completely original within taking something that came before. Case in point with Aaron and Adam Nee’s latest film, The Lost City, which takes on the action, romantic comedy set in a jungle plot that was popularized in the 1980s by movies like Romancing the Stone, where two a-list actors carry the film on their backs in what can be a pretty entertaining, yet disposable time at the movies. Disney tried to do it last year with Jungle Cruise, and, on the whole, it just didn’t work because you couldn’t buy into the two leads and their chemistry. But that isn’t the case here as Sandra Bullock and Channing Tatum make this adventure something worth exploring.
Loretta Sage is at an impasse in her career. As she is writing her latest romance novel, The Lost City of D, she begins to realize that writing these novels isn’t worth it anymore. Since losing her husband, she’s become sheltered and regimented, doing the same thing over and over again to the point in which her publicist and best friend Beth (Da’Vine Joy Randolph) can explain what she is doing to a tee when Loretta is listening to her voicemail. Beth then forces her to get out of her house to promote the book, alongside the book series cover model Alan (Tatum), for whom Loretta can’t stand. For her, Alan is nothing more than a guy who can’t see that he is more than a cover model, making her book tours all about his washboard abs and long blonde hair rather than the words she is putting on the page, inspired by the work she was doing with her husband before he passed away. He also is a little bit of a block head, but Alan makes up for his lack of intelligence with charm and genuine heart, considering he has a crush on Loretta and wants to show her that he more than his looks.
After a press junket disaster, Loretta storms off, angry with Alan, and as she is getting in her car to take her home, she is kidnapped by henchmen and taken to an airplane hangar where she meets Abigail Fairfax (Daniel Radcliffe), an eccentric billionaire who has been searching for the Lost City of D and its treasures. He holds a piece of the puzzle but needs Loretta’s help in filling in the gaps, and when she respectfully declines, she is dragged against her will on a plane to the location Fairfax and his crew believe to be where the Lost City is located. As this is going on, Alan and Beth desperately try to find a way to get Loretta back safe and sound. This leads Tatum to call upon a friend of his who works for the CIA (Brad Pitt) to help get Alan to the island to rescue Loretta. After a couple of days’ travel, and going through a half of dozen armed guard, Alan and his friend get Loretta out of the compound in which she is being forced to transcribe the location of the Lost City. But getting there is the easy part of the journey, it’s getting out of the jungle that is tricky, as gun battles, car chases, and the jungle take their toll on Loretta and Alan as they try to make it out alive, but also beat Fairfax to the location of Lost City before he goes and takes the treasure.
The Lost City packs a lot of plot within its runtime, yet with Bullock and Tatum able to handle everything that is thrown at them. Bullock, a staple in the rom-com genre, gives Loretta enough agency and charm to get past the prickly exterior that Alan is trying to crack. While being a producer of the film as well, you can see that she is going back to a formula that made her the star that she is and loving every second she is making this project. After a decade of working on a lot of drama heavy projects, it’s nice to see the Sandra Bullock of Miss Congeniality, Two Weeks Notice, and The Proposal back on the big screen, showcasing why she is still one of the best movie stars we have working today. And then Tatum, who after being gone for the last couple of years, has returned with Dog earlier this year, and now this, as the gullible, sexy leading man that goes ham a lot in this project, much to the performances we saw him do in the 21 Jump Street movies earlier in the last decade. It could feel like a greatest hits of their past, but it works together because these two leads are committed to these roles and understand the essence of how a movie like this needs to be made. Through this commitment, we buy into their romantic feelings for one another, thus making you want to see these two on screen again down the road.
Besides the stellar leads, the issues with the film do lie in something that is completely out of their control, and that this kind of property has been done a lot. The Nee brothers do their best to add in memorable supporting characters played by Radcliffe, Randolph and Pitt to add a lot of fun to this project, but even they can only do so much to elevate the material. This is by no means saying that The Lost City is a bad movie, it’s just not reinventing the wheel or adding something fresh to this kind of storytelling to make it seem less reliant on the audience’s familiarities with movies like this that did it much better or felt brand new when they were released.
This review is from the SXSW Film Festival. The Lost City will be released only in theaters on March 25, 2022 by Paramount Pictures.