The Lost City is a rough around the edges goofy comedy that coasts perhaps a little too much on its star power. I wouldn’t go so far as to call it a good movie, but as I said to my wife after she asked me how I liked it, “I laughed enough.” Though I would add, just barely.
The Nee brothers, Aaron and Adam, debut film says nothing about either their talents, their interests, other than being a tad too indulgent to the headline actors in their movies. The Lost City, while glossy, suffers from the same thing as Red Notice, in that it wildly swings between on location, green screen CGI settings, and what is becoming more and more increasingly old school studio sets. The result is a movie that can sometimes look cheap despite its budget.
The script, co-written by the Nee brothers themselves and Orien Uziel and Dana Fox, feels strangely underwritten, despite having a quad of writers. Granted, The Lost City is a movie that doesn’t involve byzantine plots and deep characterizations, but as it stands, it feels almost too slight. Nevertheless, the idea of a serious anthropologist, Loretta Sage (Sandra Bullock), who stumbles into becoming a worldwide best-selling romance novelist, is not a bad idea. Add to that, she gets kidnapped by a mad billionaire Abigail Fairfax (Daniel Radcliffe), hellbent on finding a lost treasure whose location she might have stumbled upon in her latest book, and you almost have a movie.
Round it out with having the well-meaning himbo Alan Caprison (Channing Tatum), a cover model who has become synonymous with Loretta’s hunky creation Dash coming to the rescue, and we’re on our way. But the cast’s likability notwithstanding, the script feels less like a crafted idea and more like a series of pitches for an idea. Yet, in some ways, that’s part of the charm of The Lost City.
Abigail is convinced that Loretta knows where the Crown of Fire is, a fabled crown of red diamonds. Radcliffe is having fun as an unhinged billionaire unfamiliar with how anyone other than himself lives.
Loretta is eventually rescued by Alan and a hired mercenary, Jack Trainer (Brad Pitt); she is less interested in getting off the island than finding the treasure. Even before she was kidnapped, Loretta was dealing with the death of her husband. Something that caused her to be a virtual recluse for the past five years. So she’s got a lot going on.
The problem is The Lost City doesn’t know how to tie all these things together. Loretta keeps her desire to find the treasure a secret from Alan for most of the movie, forcing her into countless pointless scenes where she has to scrabble to lie. Yes, Tatum and Bullock have chemistry but not so much in that these scenes don’t feel excruciating.
The push and pull of Alan and Loretta are done better than I expected. Admittedly, it takes a while for Loretta to warm up to Alan. But, on the other hand, I liked how Alan was the one in awe of Loretta, while she seemed utterly unimpressed by the square-jawed model.
It’s been a while since I’ve seen a movie where I could tell the filmmakers had fun coming up with their characters’ names. Though they come dangerously close to ruining that by having characters openly question the names in disbelief. But the script skates by having the characters not realize that their own names are equally ridiculous.
The Lost City is less a well-timed well, crafted comedic masterpiece and more of a very relaxed hang-out movie. A movie starring Sandra Bullock, Channing Tatum, and Daniel Radcliffe, with the likes of Brad Pitt popping up to have some fun, would typically be much tighter or polished. However, the shaggy dog nature of The Lost City is part of its charm. The film is a goofy lark unconcerned with anything more substantive than having a good time.
As admirable as that is, and as up to the task as Bullock and Tatum are, it felt like the Nee Brothers are a tad indulgent. For example, one of the gags in The Lost City involves Bullock in a sequined jumpsuit that feels more at home in a Russ Meyer knock-off movie than on Bullock. Uncomfortable and restrictive, Loretta is in that jumpsuit for much of the film. The gag, of course, is that she is wearing the absolute wrong clothes for being kidnapped and trekking through the jungle trying to escape armed henchmen.
The gag eventually runs its course, and there’s only so much vamping Bullock can do before the joke becomes stale. The Lost City is filled with scenes that drag on just a little too long. A minor complaint, but consider how much a few seconds can feel like an eternity in a movie, and you begin to realize the vast amount of dead air that comes close to suffocating the film.
At times, The Lost City tiptoes into a starkly more morbid area. These moments are refreshing and give the film a slight crackle of unpredictability. If only because most of the dark humor comes with violence, cartoonish or otherwise. At one point, the duo accidentally kills a henchman and stands there shocked at what they’ve done. An exchange follows as they try to reason how it’s not their fault, and maybe you shouldn’t race around in the jungle at night on a motorcycle wearing a helmet and dark, dark visor.
The brothers seem to have no concept of comedic timing in terms of editing. Scenes are either cut too soon, not allowing a line to land, or are allowed to drag on too long, killing any tension of a moment. It doesn’t help that the type of comedy Tatum and Bullock seem to be employing is awkward staring and bemused looks. The Lost City could have been a riot; as it stands, it is merely okay.
Bullock and Tatum are good but are almost outshined by the likes of Da’Vine Joy Randolph, who plays Loretta’s put-upon and desperate publisher. A woman who by the end seems about to cry, and I couldn’t help but have a little sympathy for her. Randolph has a firestorm of energy that almost knocks her co-stars off the screen. Sadly she spends much of her screen time in frames by herself in which she has to generate most of the energy herself.
However, I must give credit to the script for revealing the location of the lost tomb and the way it plays on the ways colonizers misunderstand the culture they conquer. They also seem to understand how local legends can sometimes snowball into a historical fact simply because white historians can’t be bothered to actually do more than superficial research into the culture.
The Lost City is fine. It’s a movie that very much depends on how you are feeling when you watch it. Still, it’s a movie that I liked enough that I left wishing it was just a little bit better.
Images courtesy of Paramount Pictures
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