FOR REFERENCE: This review of, “The Lost City” is based on a theatrical viewing
After two miserable years of COVID-19, I think we could all use a good time. This is perhaps why I felt a little more charitable toward proudly dopey movies like Jackass Forever and Uncharted this year, namely because they hit the spot with their mischievous, undemanding final products. It would seem that I’m still feeling charitable as well, because The Lost City is another movie cut from that same cloth; A proud, ridiculous romp that could easily be summed up as ‘Uncharted for women’, or the most unofficial remake of 1984’s Romancing the Stone that one could imagine.
The noticeable similarities to that latter movie are especially bold, to the point where many of my friends and colleagues mistakenly believed that The Lost City is a remake, and that the Romancing the Stone rights had somehow transferred from 20th Century Studios over to Paramount. Alas, The Lost City is technically an original movie without prior source material, but you wouldn’t know that from looking. Its premise is brazenly lifted from Romancing the Stone, specifically its hook of a lonely romance novelist that ends up swept into a jungle-trotting adventure wherein she’s pursued by a dangerous villain, and eventually placed in the company of a dashing male companion, something that ultimately reignites her fading passion and creative spark for the written word.
Of course, there are enough changes made to The Lost City so that Paramount can stay relatively clear of a nasty lawsuit from Disney. For starters, Romancing the Stone’s military villain is replaced by Daniel Radcliffe’s young, goofy rich boy treasure hunter. Secondly, the central macguffin is changed to an entire treasure-filled city rather than a fancy jewel, presumably because Paramount already made that work as a macguffin in their live-action Dora the Explorer movie that I still can’t believe exists. Finally, Michael Douglas’ formerly competent, swashbuckling exotic bird handler is swapped out for Channing Tatum’s bumbling, oblivious cover model, one that means well, but still lets Sandra Bullock’s modern-minded, politically appropriate female lead do almost everything important for the plot. That is, whenever Brad Pitt isn’t around for a highly-advertised cameo.
Even if it weren’t very obviously echoing another movie that its middle-aged female target audience would likely recall fondly from the 80’s, The Lost City keeps things light and simple, and it seems pretty much tailor-made for a ‘girls’ night out’, as it were. Part romantic comedy, part action-adventure and part fish-out-of-water story, The Lost City isn’t shy about recycling familiar tropes, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have fun with it. Had COVID-19 not happened, I would probably be more critical of such a derivative, innocuous plot, but like I said, we could all use some undemanding laughs and fun at this point, I’m sure. Thus, The Lost City ended up in the right place, at the right time, and while there’s nothing truly novel about it, its highly charming cast and decently-portioned laughs still place it slightly above your run-of-the-mill ladies’ night flick.
The Lost City is one of those movies that outwardly doesn’t feel like anything special, but its lead actors are clearly having such a blast filming it, plus its comedic stylings are so infectiously engaged and executed, that you can’t help but get swept up in the fun. Sandra Bullock once again proves that she can single-handedly elevate any date movie in the lead role of shut-in, declining romance author, Loretta Sage, and she’s complemented exceptionally by Channing Tatum’s oafish pretty boy cover model, Alan Caprison, who is most widely recognized as Loretta’s celebrated male prose lead, Dash McMahon. There’s some rudimentary exploration of the professional dynamic between these two early on, but all you really need to know is that Loretta’s husband has recently died, sending her into a spiral of grief and introversion, while Alan enjoys the attention of hordes of Loretta’s female fans, but nonetheless nurses a crush on the noticeably older Loretta because, hey, it could happen, right?
Obviously though, The Lost City is not excessively concerned with realism, unless it gets a chance to roast the journeys of the very same treasure hunting movies that clearly inspired it. This is quickly made evident through the introduction of our villain, Abigail Fairfax, played in a wonderfully over-the-top turn by Daniel Radcliffe, a belittled, eccentric, treasure-obsessed billionaire who kidnaps Loretta so that she can lead him to an ancient ruined city, one that contains a priceless artifact called the ‘Crown of Fire’, which just so happens to be the subject of Loretta’s newest romance novel. Abigail Fairfax also has a girl’s name, as do both of his brothers, because that’s how seriously we’re meant to take his laughably non-threatening, non-sequitur-spouting antagonist. Fairfax’s would-be campaign for treasure (and Alan’s eventual campaign for love, of course), is also so silly that it’s clearly ripped straight out of a trashy romance novel, and yes, that does feel very intentional.
Much like Bullock and Tatum, Radcliffe is very obviously enjoying himself throughout The Lost City as well, lovably embracing his second high-profile villain turn after 2016’s Now You See Me 2. More of an absurd foil than a truly dangerous obstacle, Radcliffe throws himself into the borderline juvenile portrayal of Fairfax with truly impressive abandon, because, hey, it’s all in the name of good-natured adventure. It’s also worth noting that Radcliffe’s role feels like the least tropey part in what’s otherwise a proudly tropey movie. This is of course best exemplified through a criminally underused Brad Pitt in the role of Jack Trainer, a highly skilled adventurer-for-hire that feels like the true surrogate to Michael Douglas’ Jack T. Colton from Romancing the Stone. Even Loretta being pointedly hunted by her desperate publicist, Beth, played in another standout role by Only Murders in the Building’s Da’Vine Joy Randolph, feels amusingly relatable in our career-obsessed modern age, managing to keep the heart visible in a movie that otherwise sticks closely to a well-trodden Hollywood formula.
There isn’t really any reason to dig deep into the plot of The Lost City, because you can determine everything you need to know about it from its marketing. This movie is aggressively predictable, which I would normally take issue with, were it not for the fact that its comedic timing is nonetheless surprisingly decent. You wouldn’t normally expect a proudly derivative storyline and sharp comedic surprises to go together, but even if The Lost City’s central journey of grief, resolution, and finding the gorgeous lover that’s been under the protagonist’s nose the whole time (I would say that’s a spoiler, but I’ll assume you’ve seen literally any other movie with a romance plot in it), hits all the exact notes you would expect, at least its energetic performances and surprisingly solid gags help to distract from the fact that this movie is treading a lot of familiar narrative ground.
The Lost City’s writer-director duo, Adam Nee and Aaron Nee, collectively billed as the ‘Nee Brothers’ in the professional circuit, probably won’t be familiar to you, unless you heard about their upcoming high-profile gig to write and direct a new live-action Masters of the Universe movie. The Lost City being their first mainstream flick however, the Nee Brothers would appear to be a decent blockbuster talent to keep an eye on, if for no other reason than the fact that they seem to have a knack for injecting lots of engagement into otherwise mediocre adventure movies. That would indeed appear to make them perfect for the Hollywood marketing machine, especially when The Lost City manages to effectively entertain as a decent remake that’s not actually a remake.
It also feels apparent that The Lost City’s cast works effortlessly with the Nee Brothers, to the point where you could justifiably say that the actors carry much of the production. The Nee Brothers still stage some competent, if rather exaggerated action scenes when appropriate though. They also manage to inject some wonderfully cheeky spectacle into death scenes especially, complete with some surprisingly dark jokes layered around them, in a risky, but nonetheless successful swerving of tone that you can’t help but laugh at, simply because these bleak-minded chuckles are so unexpected in an otherwise light-hearted story.
There’s still not much that’s truly envelope-pushing about the Nee Brothers’ directing at this point, but I suppose I can respect doing the simple stuff well, rather than botching bigger swings that these budding directors may not be ready for yet. Besides, I can’t realistically fault The Lost City for just wanting to provide some good, clean fun (when it’s not laughing at dead people anyway), especially when it manages to be better at that than you might initially expect.
The Lost City stands as the latest proof that Hollywood doesn’t always need to reinvent the wheel in order to deliver a reasonably fun and entertaining movie. It may be ridiculous, disposable, predictable and almost entirely unoriginal, but in a modern movie market that’s been strangely starved of high-profile romantic comedies lately (at least outside of Universal’s similarly charming Marry Me from last month), The Lost City is a sweet dose of cinematic entertainment that’s bolstered further as another vibrant, optimistic distraction from the continued misery of current events.
There’s nothing here that you haven’t seen before, granted, but its sharp and funny lead cast, as well as its lively direction, help to make The Lost City a good time while it lasts, even if it probably won’t linger in your mind afterward. I, personally enjoyed this movie more than I thought I would, despite its flaws and conservative ambitions, and despite the fact that I’m well outside of its target audience due to being a young, straight, cisgender male. As a date movie, you could definitely do a lot worse, and as a ladies’ night movie, The Lost City will provide a non-threatening, but still lovable time for your girls’ group.
Plus, you get to see Channing Tatum’s ass again, if you’re into that. Don’t mind the leeches.
- Highly entertaining lead cast
- Charming, lively direction throughout
- More comedic punch than you may expect
- Blatantly lifts almost all its ideas from other movies
- Highly predictable romance and adventure elements
- Not enough Brad Pitt