Let us praise the genius of Sandra Bullock’s gift for physical comedy. It makes even the small business of teetering on a stool in a fuchsia-sequined jumpsuit an epic of determination, embarrassment, grit, and uncertainty. It is in no small part that THE LOST CITY, on which she was also an executive producer, is such an engaging bit of rom-com adventure. The other is Channing Tatum, sending up the image of male models with such sweet dorkiness that one almost forgets those killer abs. Almost.
The premise is as silly as that ci-mentioned sequined jumpsuit in which Ms. Bullock finds herself through much of the flick. She’s romance writer Loretta Sage, who is wallowing in the slough of despond since the death of her archeologist husband five years previously. After a particularly dispiriting appearance at a convention, named Romancing the Novel with a nod and a wink to a Michael Douglas-Kathleen Turner classic, with Alan (Tatum), the hunky model who graces the covers of her twenty published novels, her life will take a turn into the improbable. Or rather, the plot of a romance novel with piquant jabs at the tropes of same. She and Alan are not just thrown together against her will, but together on a jungle island with a volcano about to blow, and with a murderous rich kid rife with daddy issues and the unfortunate name of Abigail (Daniel Radcliffe) tracking them. It turns out that the eponymous lost city of Loretta’s last novel actually exists, or so Abigail believes. Thus, he kidnaps Loretta from her book tour, still wearing the sparkly borrowed jumpsuit and precarious spike heels in which she walked out on her obligations. He’s convinced that she is the only one who can translate a pilfered parchment, and lead him to the fabled Crown of Flame that will make him feel better about not being daddy’s favorite.
Is there any doubt about Loretta and Alan getting together after overcoming their pride and their prejudice? Of course not. Especially since Alan has been harboring a crush on her that renders him incoherent in her presence. It’s why he refuses to be left behind when Loretta is whisked away by Abigail’s henchmen, and why he’s particularly threatened by the professional mercenary (Brad Pitt) hired by Loretta’s publisher (Da’Vine Joy Randolph). The very pretty professional mercenary with gravity-defying moves and a very specific ethics set.
The story serves as an economical framework for Bullock and Tatum to be adorable. And they are, irresistibly so. Alan may not be book smart. He may not have cornered the market on common sense, but he’s not dumb when it counts. Channing, sex on two legs, keys into Alan’s insecurities in the face of Loretta’s intellect in a way that is anything but glib, funny though it is, and it makes Alan all the more sympathetic. Bullock, giving us Loretta grimacing her way through another book tour and the agony of Alan’s company, tempers the grouchiness with her character’s loss and loneliness while never missing a comic beat. Kudos, as well, to Pitt, who plays the caricature of a romance novel hero with conviction and a perfectly straight face, becoming a delicious foil to Tatum’s awkward gung-ho spirit.
The writing is nice, with the banter elevated by the thespians engaging in it. They also keep the sentimentality warm, not syrupy. It benefits by having Bullock as a producer, too. The sequin jumpsuit she sports may be low-cut and fitted, but it is not skintight. The spike heels in which she lands in the jungle do exactly what spike heels in a jungle would do. As in disintegrate. The snap judgement about what’s behind a pretty (male) face becomes more complex than a mere plot device.
THE LOST CITY is a feel-good film that gleefully embraces its inherent ridiculousness, and yet it resists being merely superficial. It doesn’t need to be anything other than fun. And it is.