Now that so many of us watch new releases at home, we may have lost sight of one of the modest pleasures of moviegoing: the Big-Screen Trifle, a romance or comedy that would probably work just fine viewed on the small screen—or on an airplane—but is somehow more fun seen in a theater, with a group of people united in the joy of laughing at totally stupid stuff. That’s the kind of movie The Lost City is: breezy, silly, possibly quickly forgettable—but if you need to lose yourself for an hour or two, it could be just the thing.
Sandra Bullock plays Loretta Sage, the writer of a series of popular romance novels with strong historical underpinnings: she’s a serious scholar first, but the books are her bread-and-butter, and she knows it. Her heroine, Angela Lovemore—that’s Dr. Lovemore to you—is an adventuress with beauty and brains. But Loretta, still grieving after the death of her husband, has lost the will and the energy to write and promote her books, much to the dismay of the publisher who’s invested so much in them (the always effervescent Da’Vine Joy Randolph). Grudgingly making an appearance at a book event—and zipped into a humiliating pink sequined jumpsuit she deems a “glitter onesie”—Loretta realizes she’s being outshone by the dim but adorable beefcake charmer who’s been the cover model for all her books, a Fabio-tressed hunk named Alan (Channing Tatum). The flowing blond locks are a wig, but the women in the audience don’t know and don’t care. They know him as the face and pecs of Loretta’s strapping male hero, known as Dash, and they just want to see him take his shirt off.
Disaster strikes when Loretta is kidnaped by eccentric zillionaire Abigail Fairfax (Daniel Radcliffe) who hopes to use her anthropological knowhow to recover an ancient whatsit from a remote jungle island. Alan, who’s secretly attracted to Loretta but can’t get past her prickliness, attempts a rescue: we see him after his flight, blinking in the sunshine with his tiny wheelie bag, a puffy travel pillow perched around his neck like a fat necklace. The rest of The Lost City traces the ups and downs of this absurd adventure, and shows how the closed-off, sharp-tongued Loretta eventually realizes that Dash—make that Alan—isn’t so dumb after all, and is in fact worthy of her love.
You saw that coming, of course. Directed by brothers Aaron Nee and Adam Nee—who made a small-budget indie in 2006, The Last Romantic—The Lost City throws off plenty of playful Romancing the Stone vibes, and Bullock and Tatum are two of the best sports in the business, unafraid to look ridiculous while also making this highly unlikely courtship feel believable, at least according to our much-loved romantic-comedy conventions. (The movie also features an outlandish mini-appearance by Brad Pitt, the specifics of which it’s better not to spoil.)
Bullock knows her way around a wisecrack, and though she doesn’t look particularly middle-aged, it’s pleasing to see her play a character who’s lived a little: Loretta is a bit tired and unafraid to let it show. Meanwhile, Tatum, with his hot-fireman-calendar physique and conspiratorial smile, is so secure in his masculinity that he can play a character who’s, say, totally grossed out by leeches: they cling to his brawny back after he and Loretta ford a tropical river, and as she, equally grossed out, hesitates to pluck them off, he blurts out, “Just find the queen and let’s be done with it!”
The Lost City freely invites us to gaze upon Tatum’s comeliness—Alan doesn’t mind being objectified, and is in fact perfectly happy being a hot dude who models for book covers, because it makes women happy, and he refuses to denigrate something that gives them such pleasure. His generosity radiates in the little things he does for Loretta, like bringing her a pair of reasonably sensible boots to wear in the jungle, an alternative to the spindly heels she was wearing when she was kidnaped. Even as she spurns his adoration, snapping at him like an irritable turtle, you can see her resistance wearing down. These two find their paradise, as we knew they would, both realizing that their screwball connection would be a terrible thing to waste. Their motto could be love more, not less.
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