3 out of 5 stars

Ever since The African Queen (1951), Hollywood’s enjoyed adventure-driven romances. The prospect of two beautiful but mismatched characters against a picturesque background appeals to everyone. They’ve been slowly making a resurgence since Dora and the City of Gold (2019) and Uncharted (2022), provided plenty of thrills and chemistry between their leads. And with The Lost City, filmmaking brothers Aaron and Adam Nee (Band of Robbers) attempt to give the formula a contemporary twist, with an enjoyable piece of throwback cinema elevated by a winning cast.

Loretta Sage (Sandra Bullock) is a successful novelist who found success with a series of romantic adventures inspired by her love of archaeology. Although her stories have brought her fame, she’s become a recluse mourning the recent death of her husband. But after finishing her latest book, Loretta’a convinced to go on a book tour by her publicist Beth (Da’Vine Joy Randolph), so reluctantly attends with Alan (Channing Tatum), the real-life model for her book covers. Unfortunately, after leaving an event promoting her latest adventure, The Lost City of D, Loretta is kidnapped by flamboyant billionaire Abigail Fairfax (Daniel Radcliffe), who believes her archaeological knowledge can lead him to a priceless mythological artefact known as The Crown of Fire. Meanwhile, Alan’s convinced he can be just as courageous as the character he’s paid to imitate and sets off to rescue the author, and help find the lost treasure before Fairfax.

After venturing into drama with Bird Box (2018) and The Unforgivable (2021) more recently, it’s wonderful to see Sandra Bullock returning to the genre that helped shape her career and reminding audiences why her comedic prowess is almost unmatched. While maintaining a similar energy she displayed alongside Ryan Reynolds in The Proposal (2009), Bullock makes great use of her sarcastic quips and slapstick humour. Her timing is razor-sharp and she fully leans well into the physical comedy as Loretta traverses the jungle in a pink sequinned jumpsuit and heels. Similarly, Channing Tatum effortlessly matches his co-star’s humour with his natural charisma as Alan. Rivalling his performance in 21 Jump Street (2012), he downplays his strapping physicality for laughs and shows great commitment to the more embarrassing moments. Bullock and Tatum have fantastic chemistry together too; whether during an uproarious rescue mission involving a wheelbarrow, or a sequence involving leeches.

The Lost City also benefits from its fine supporting players. Channelling the freewheeling personality of Cliff Booth, Brad Pitt’s (Seven) hilarious extended cameo is a particular highlight as professional mercenary Jack Trainer. The character’s advanced sleeper holds and bone-crunching action sequences provide a much-needed jolt of energy to proceedings. Demonstrating he’s at his best with the right comedic material, Pitt imbues each scene with subtle charm and roguish humour.

Additionally, Daniel Radcliffe (Swiss Army Man) further demonstrates his range as eccentric billionaire Fairfax. Following his extravagantly nihilistic introduction, Radcliffe initially portrays the character as a polite narcissist hellbent on discovering a lost artefact. However, as the story progresses he begins to devolve into a sneering megalomaniac and Fairfax’s overwrought unpredictability makes the character equally dangerous and hilarious. Similar to Paul Freeman in Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), Radcliffe fully embraces the character’s eccentricities and chews the scenery.

Comparisons to Romancing the Stone (1984) are inescapable and, at least superficially, The Lost City shares plenty of similarities with Robert Zemeckis’ romantic adventure classic. However, the directors don’t completely mimic their influences and here are several moments when tropes—including a volcanic eruption and cramped wet tunnels—are skewered into vague innuendos. Unfortunately, there’s an inescapable feeling that the 112-minute runtime could have benefited from a tighter structure. The recurring transitions following Beth’s separate journey to the island severely damage the momentum during the second half, while a henchman’s connection to the island could’ve been removed entirely. Thankfully, Bullock and Tatum’s wisecracks are never too far away.

Instead of resembling a stereotypical emotionally-suppressed action hero, Alan contains a surprising amount of benevolence. What he lacks in intelligence and heroism, he makes up for in emotional understanding and tenderness. And Loretta goes against the archetype of the damsel-in-distress, being confident in her abilities, highly educated, and independent. There are several moments where Loretta dismisses Alan for his idiocy, aptly describing him as a walking “body wash commercial”, but she eventually learns there’s more to him beneath the surface as the two connect through honesty and vulnerability. Similar to The Mummy (1999) it’s a joyful indication of how a formulaic narrative can be reshaped without sacrificing the basics of its appeal.

Despite similarities to Jungle Cruise (2021) and Uncharted, The Lost City also offers something quite thought-provoking. It provides a compelling grounded roadmap to a metaphorical treasure. It’s established early on that Loretta’s mourning the loss of her husband, whose loss triggered her writing romances based on an idealised version of her adventures with her husband. However, she’s since become disillusioned with her work and is embarrassed to be writing romance “schlock”. During a particular sequence, Alan reminds her of the impact her work has on others. He explains that he too felt embarrassed to be associated with romance novels. But once he realised how many fans had invested in her work, he knows they were special. After finally locating the ruins she had once searched for with her husband, she rediscovers her old passions. Loretta’s journey isn’t about finding a lost treasure, it’s about reconnecting with her artistic passions.

After endless reboots and sequels at the cinema, The Lost City feels surprisingly fresh. It’s a wildly entertaining romantic-adventure, mainly thanks to Bullock and Tatum’s playful charisma together and more laughs than the average studio comedy. The metaphor “don’t judge a book by its cover” is used multiple times throughout, and hopefully audiences can apply this proverb to their perception of The Lost City because it’s a diamond in the rough.

USA | 2022 | 112 MINUTES | 2:39:1 | COLOUR | ENGLISH

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Cast & Crew

directors: Aaron & Adam Nee.
writers: Oren Uziel, Dana Fox, Aaron Nee & Adam Nee.
starring: Sandra Bullock, Channing Tatum, Daniel Radcliffe, Da’Vine Joy Randolph, Patti Harrison & Brad Pitt.