The Movie Guru: “The Lost City” has great acting, not-so-great script
Grade: Two and a half stars
The Movie Guru
“The Lost City” is a lot of fun, but it could have been good.
Opening in theaters this weekend, the movie straddles the line between being an adventure romance and a full-on parody of the genre. Though an excellent cast turns the movie into a romp, their combined talent can’t quite hide a poorly paced, wildly uneven script. There’s a lot of charm here, but there could have been so much more.
In the movie, Sandra Bullock stars as an archeologist-turned-romance writer struggling to get over the death of her husband. When she gets kidnapped by a rich guy trying to find a lost treasure (Daniel Radcliffe), her cover model (Channing Tatum) tries to ride to the rescue. The two of them get sucked into an adventure that will either lead to the most unexpected treasure of all, or a deeply embarrassing death.
The first half of the movie leans much more heavily into the parody aspect of things, with Tatum in a long Fabio-style wig and everyone finding Bullock with a “find my smartwatch” app. Everyone leans into it, particularly Tatum, and the entire rescue sequence with Brad Pitt is a first-class run of awkward action humor. Da’Vine Joy Randolph’s performance is lower key, but still delightful. Bullock is mostly left playing the straight man, but when she does get the chance for physical humor she nails it.
While the script is purely surface level, the cast does what they can to add some depth. Bullock makes her character’s grief very real, draining the energy out of her, while Tatum makes his genuine concern and feeling for Bullock quietly evident. Radcliffe is the real surprise as a genuinely threatening villain, affable only as long as he’s getting exactly what he wants. Watching him slide into menace is a genuine pleasure to watch, and a performance that would hold up well even in a far more serious movie.
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When the script starts transforming into a genuine action-adventure romance, it’s only the previous efforts by the cast that make it work at all. We’re suddenly supposed to see both the danger and the romance as considerably more than jokes, but the script doesn’t ever bother putting in the effort to make us believe. Bullock’s character arc is wildly abrupt, going from being mean to Tatum to fond of him with a snap of her fingers, and we barely learn anything about Tatum’s character at all. The actor’s performance is the only thing giving him any more depth than the paper cover of a romance novel.
Thankfully for audiences, Bullock and Tatum have great chemistry. They manage to make a fireside scene feel genuinely tender, and their dance later in the movie generates more real heat than anything else in the movie. When the script doesn’t get in the way, the two of them actually make me feel invested in their growing relationship.
They, along with the rest of the cast, also make you feel like the movie is actually worth watching. It’s just a shame they don’t get any help.
Jenniffer Wardell is an award-winning movie critic and member of the Denver Film Critics Society. Find her on Twitter at @wardellwriter or drop her a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.