Does any actress play “uptight” on-screen better than Sandra Bullock? Trying to walk in beauty pageant heels, tripping all over Ryan Reynolds while starkers, driving an LA bus hooked up to a bomb – Bullock has turned fretting into high art. In her new adventure–comedy THE LOST CITY, the Oscar-winning actress spends half the film stuck in the jungle in a sequined party frock, squirming and fumbling about with hilarious results. The rest of the film doesn’t wear as well as Bullock working that garment, but the movie still manages to be escapist fun, a summer movie gracing us in late March.
Bullock plays Loretta Sage, a successful author of romance-adventure novels, who’s become bored with her prose and longs for genuine connection. Her husband, with whom she shared a taste for travel, died many years ago, and since his passing, Loretta has become more and more of a recluse. She can barely finish her latest book and she dreads having to go out and promote it, much to the chagrin of her gung-ho publicist Beth (a boisterous Da’Vine Joy Randolph).
Loretta is especially irked that the junkets include Alan Caprison (Channing Tatum), the model who supplies the likeness for Dash, her literary hero on the book covers. Tatum’s Alan is a self-centered actor, with long tresses a la Fabio, and a sense of self-importance that angers the author who must share the stage with this egotist. He doesn’t know his finely sculpted butt from a hole in the ground and constantly steps on Loretta’s efforts to explain the historical places that inspire her stories. One fan who does appreciate her findings is Abigail Fairfax (a hilariously priggish Daniel Radcliffe), the entitled offspring of a wealthy Murdoch-esque family. He wants her to help him find an ancient crown that will bring him fame and glory.
When Loretta turns Fairfax down, he has his thugs kidnap her right from the junket, in that sequined ‘onesie,’ to force her help. Unfortunately, his thugs end up grabbing Alan too, and soon the odd couple ends up deep in the jungle searching for treasure at gunpoint. Clearly, directors Adam and Aaron Nee, who co-wrote the script with Owen Uziel and Dana Fox, love films like RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK to ROMANCING THE STONE to THE MUMMY and have served up an amusing homage to such adventure films. And soon enough, the film is incorporating all kinds of familiar but fun schtick including breathless escapes, winding chases through difficult terrain, and secret tombs with all kinds of revelations in hieroglyphics.
Such tropes still play well, and Bullock and Tatum run with it, commenting on it all in real-time via their quippy banter. They both have a breezy way with the rapid-fire dialogue too, confident enough to throw away lines rather than underline them. And they’re assured physical comedians too. Their best scene finds Loretta being forced to remove leeches from his almost naked body after an escape through the river. She is repulsed by the bloodsuckers that have attached to him everywhere, yet quite impressed with Alan’s chiseled body. Then, when Alan asks her to check his junk for leeches as well, her comedic reactions and flustered words are worth the price of admission.
When the adventure part of the film takes over in the third act, a lot of the banter dissipates, and you wish Loretta and Alan were still trading barbs instead of exchanging goo-goo eyes. Still, their romantic chemistry is palpable, and the finale still leans more towards the comedic even as a volcano is raining fire down around them.
The film also benefits from a very deft, extended celebrity cameo, and a rapid pace that keeps the story rollicking along. Mostly, the movie benefits from having Bullock back as a comic actress, one of the best in the biz. Sure, she can play serious roles exceedingly well (GRAVITY, BIRDBOX), but Bullock is masterful at using her voice and body to hilarious effect. She’s an absolute stitch here and makes THE LOST CITY a hoot.