A casting coup across the board, the old-fashioned “The Lost City” (opening in theaters Friday) is further evidence that a film can coast to success almost solely on the charms of its actors.
Sandra Bullock, in a refreshing return to her innate comedic roots following a few years of grim dramas and horror pictures, plays Loretta Sage, a former archaeologist and now widowed author of cerebral romance novels with a Dan Brown spin. Critics say she’s past her prime, but she still moves plenty of units, thanks in part to her books’ recurring love interest, Dash McMahon, embodied on their covers and promotional junkets by model Alan Caprison (Channing Tatum, equally back at home in the realm of the goofy).
As the son of a successful romance novelist (free plug, Mom!), I can tell you that cover models are not really a thing anymore. They are a torrid relic of the hypermasculine ‘80s and ‘90s, when Fabio Lanzoni, he of the bulging pectorals and leonine locks, would build a $10 million net worth tapping into readers’ fantasies.
But why pick at nits? This is not a film that endeavors, after all, for unvarnished verisimilitude. We go with it, even when Loretta is kidnapped by an eccentric media mogul (Daniel Radcliffe) and spirited away to his private island off the Dominican Republic because he believes her latest book, and her history of translating archaic symbols, can lead him to a lost city of untold treasures hidden in the Central American jungle. And we go with it when Alan, shed of his flowing wig and harboring zero survival skills and the inability to throw a punch, sets out to rescue her in a real-life enactment of one of their literary adventures.
There are enough precedents for “The Lost City” to curate a mini festival of similar Americans-lost-in-exotic-locales love stories, from “Romancing the Stone”—which also centered on a lonely romance novelist—to “Six Days, Seven Nights.” Breezily directed by filmmaking brothers Adam and Aaron Nee, “The Lost City” also harkens back to vintage Hollywood lovers-on-the-run sagas like “The 39 Steps.” It is a comedy of attrition in an impossibly harsh environment, where each advancement through the jungle depletes them of another option. This forces creative solutions, often with little to work with but, literally, the clothes on their backs.
Structurally, the film is unabashedly transparent. The moment of conflict between Loretta and Alan arrives in the running time like clockwork. And we watch “The Lost City” safe in the knowledge that, despite the active volcano, the snipers in the jungle, the bad guys on motorcycles, the impassable terrains and the many precarious cliffsides, that the two leads will, of course, be fine. To paraphrase many a guru, the pleasure is in the journey—and its exuberant rapport between Bullock and Tatum—not the destination.