Dir: Adam Nee, Aaron Nee. Starring: Sandra Bullock, Channing Tatum, Daniel Radcliffe, Da’Vine Joy Randolph, Brad Pitt. 12A, 112 minutes.
Channing Tatum plays himbos like Mozart wrote symphonies. It’s a delicate art, and about much more than playing dumb. It’s about capturing the sweet, wounded desperation of a man who’s aware of the pressure on him to fulfil some kind of masculine ideal, but wouldn’t even know where to start. The himbo, I’d argue, is an underrated feminist archetype, a positive image of masculinity that simultaneously critiques the kinds of wild expectations we place on men. It’s all about subversion – that what he’s ultimately valued for aren’t the superficial markers of dominance or caveman brawn, but the pure goodness of his heart.
Tatum has spent his entire career perfecting that kind of himbo, whether it be in the 21 Jump Street or Magic Mike films. And, finally, in The Lost City, he’s been paired with his ideal opposite: Sandra Bullock, the actor you call to play very smart women who still can’t seem to keep their lives together, who delivers in ways that are relatable as opposed to patronising. Though the film, directed by brothers Adam and Aaron Nee, presents itself as a 21st-century retread of Robert Zemeckis’s adventure romcom Romancing the Stone, it’s really the kind of project that’s suctioned itself to its A-list leads like a barnacle on a ship.
Bullock is the flinty but loveable Loretta Sage, an archaeologist who’s become an emotional shut-in after her husband’s untimely death. She’s now slumming it – in her opinion – as the author of a series of steamy romance novels. Tatum is Alan Caprison, the cover model and now public face of Loretta’s hunky creation, Dash McMahon. His dedication to the role mildly repulses her. At Loretta’s latest book signing, he answers questions like he somehow had a hand in writing her work, before promptly ripping off his shirt. Alan, in a way, has become the physical manifestation of her own self-loathing. It doesn’t help that her publicist, Beth (Da’Vine Joy Randolph), insists that she turns up to the event in a sequinned jumpsuit so tight that it forces her to shuffle around like someone wrapped head-to-toe in medical bandages.
It’s not the ideal fit for what happens next. Loretta is kidnapped by the unloved son (a very game Daniel Radcliffe) of a media mogul, Abigail Fairfax, who’s convinced the tidbits of historical knowledge littered throughout her books make her the key to finding the lost Crown of Fire. The treasure is said to be buried deep beneath a volcanic island out in the Atlantic, somewhere in the ruins of The Lost City of D, which has recently exposed itself to the elements. Well, technically, as Abigail points out, it’s exposed “just the tip”. Expect much more innuendo where that came from.
The story here leans pretty hard on its “don’t judge a book by its cover” lessons, sometimes in the literal sense – Alan chastises Loretta for dismissing her books as nothing but low-brow shlock. But Bullock and Tatum are such dedicated professionals in the romcom field that it almost feels a little rude not to fall for their eventual romance. It’s lovely to watch the way Loretta warms up to Alan once his self-imposed image of masculinity starts to chip away, as she tenderly applies eczema cream to his back while laying out how she’d describe the moment in one of her novels. The Lost City, for the most part, finds that sweet spot between goofy and sincere, especially during the scenes where Tatum’s Alan tries to match up to the mercenary hired to rescue Loretta, played by none other than Brad Pitt. The star flips his long, blonde locks around like he’s back in Legends of the Fall, and smoulders with smug self-satisfaction. Tatum, in reaction, flounders magnificently.
Unfortunately, the further away from Tatum and Bullock you get, the more the film struggles. The fact that Patti Harrison, as Loretta’s social media manager, steals away all of her scenes just by being weird enough to call someone’s grandmother a “slut”, highlights how deficient the writing can be in other places. Randolph is stuck playing the Black best friend whose entire existence gravitates around the white protagonist; there’s an attempt to poke fun at the adventure genre’s implicit exoticism that feels awkwardly half-hearted. But if you can force yourself to be myopic enough that nothing outside of its central romance matters? Well, then, The Lost City plays like a dream.
‘The Lost City’ is in cinemas now
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