After the death of her husband, the last thing smartypants archaeologist-turned-paperback-romance-author Loretta Sage (Sandra Bullock) wants to do is leave her house, let alone go on a book tour at the behest of her caring but pushy publisher/publicist Beth (Da’Vine Joy Randolph) and painfully millennial social media manager Allison (Patti Harrison, a star). Being a trouper, Loretta suits up into her uncomfortable glittery purple jumpsuit (it’s on loan) and begrudgingly puts on a fake smile onstage next to Alan (Channing Tatum), the well-meaning but dimwitted (and yes, hot) himbo cover model who portrays the hunky leading man of Loretta’s books, Dash McMahon.
As if leaving her house in the first place weren’t bad enough, Loretta is mysteriously kidnapped by Abigail Fairfax (Daniel Radcliffe), the psychotic child of a billionaire media mogul locked in a Succession-like feud with his more successful siblings. Somehow, it gets even more twisted: Abigail is hellbent on discovering the “Crown of Fire” in the middle of a remote Atlantic island, and believes Loretta is the only one who can decipher the treasure map. Secretly in love with her, Alan hops on a plane and enlists the help of Jack Trainer (Brad Pitt) to rescue Loretta from Abigail’s monied clutches, deep within the jungle.
While the explosive, action-packed sequences are a lot of fun, and an essential element of the adventure genre, what sets The Lost City apart from recent, more tired blockbuster adventure/comedy fare (looking at you, Uncharted) is the humorously human moments that lead to a genuine connection between Loretta, Alan and the audience. Instead of falling back on the kind of semi-ironic “so, that happened” style of fourth-wall-breaking writing, directors and co-writers Adam and Aaron Nee take familiar adventure/rom-com cornerstones and repurpose them to find previously undiscovered gems through these personal moments. They are certainly aware of the tropes being toyed with here—dumb guy/smart lady romance, the frame story of Loretta’s novels, the treasure-hunting villian—but they approach these tropes with a freshness that gets the audience invested in its characters.
The choice to play Alan as a loveable dummy with a surprising amount of tender insight is much more interesting than the usual emotionally repressed macho action hero, or a sarcastic know-it-all rolling his eyes and winking at the audience. Not only is it funny watching Alan fumble his way through the jungle, it’s also endearing when he reveals himself to be more than what Loretta sees on the surface. What Alan lacks in street smarts, he makes up for in emotional intelligence and a gentle spirit; Tatum isn’t afraid to play that for laughs, either. “Don’t judge a book by its cover model,” he tells Loretta by the fire. This adage also applies to audience perceptions of the film overall: Don’t be too quick to turn your nose up at The Lost City because of its blockbuster gloss and trite trailer, for so many treasures await beneath the surface.
One of The Lost City’s greatest strengths is its lack of previous IP to anchor it to any fan service expectations or predetermined outcomes. Although the romance between the two leads is inevitable, the Nees have the freedom to explore the unique, emotionally sensitive romantic chemistry between their two leads. We may be familiar with romantic comedy beats or the path of an adventure story, but we don’t have any previous ideas about who these characters are as we might with a franchise film, and that leaves room for discovery, which is so rare in big budget blockbusters these days. The Lost City might follow conventional genre beats, but an expert cast with a stellar sense of humor and fresh writing leads to lots of laughs and a romantic adventure that turns out to be a diamond in the rough.
Director: Adam Nee, Aaron Nee
Writer: Oren Uziel, Dana Fox, Adam Nee, Aaron Nee, Seth Gordon
Starring: Sandra Bullock, Channing Tatum, Daniel Radcliffe, Da’Vine Joy Randolph, Oscar Nuñez, Patti Harrison, Bowen Yang
Release Date: March 25, 2022
Brooklyn-based film writer Katarina Docalovich was raised in an independent video store and never really left. Her passions include sipping lime seltzer, trying on perfume and spending hours theorizing about Survivor. You can find her scattered thoughts as well as her writing on Twitter.