' ' Cinema Romantico: The Lost City

Tuesday, April 26, 2022

The Lost City

If “The Lost City” comes across as an answer to present-day Hollywood’s intellectual property obsession by instilling the spirit of older Hollywood, it also evokes how older Hollywood was, in its way, as formula driven as modern I.P. Because even if directors Aaron and Adam Nee are not making a straight remake of “Romancing the Stone”, they are nevertheless heavily cribbing from Robert Zemeckis’s 1984 adventure-comedy in fashioning an adventure-comedy where a romance novelist finds herself in a comical life and death struggle in a tropical jungle. That novelist, though, Loretta Sage (Sandra Bullock) is a little less Joan Wilder and a little more Marion Ravenwood, just as her emergent love interest is a little less Jack Colton and a little more The Man Who Knew Too Little. (The subplot of Da’Vine Joy Randolph as Loretta’s publicist playing concurrent hero evokes Matthew McConaughey’s agent in “Tropic Thunder” but doesn’t dovetail with the main plot inventively enough.) This mixture is evoked in the movie’s opening scene, where Loretta’s revisions to her latest manuscript are imagined on screen, wiping away what we see because she deems them too derivative, more a knowing concession to its own influences than a mission statement to render something brand new. Call “The Lost City” not a remake, then, but a kind of cinematic jungle juice. And yet, despite this ample concoction, The Brothers Nee (full disclosure: Adam Nee once said he wanted to give this reviewer a big kiss for a positive notice of his previous feature film) highlight the most crucial ingredient – the stars.

The kick of “Romancing the Stone” was that Joan Wilder believed in the fantasy world she had created almost too much whereas Loretta hardly believes it at all, illustrated in the movie’s opening book launch where the author is forced to share the stage with her doltish if hunky cover model, Dash McMahon née Alan Caprison (Channing Tatum). Loretta is forced into a purple sequin jumpsuit by her publicist, all the worse (better) for eventually traipsing through the jungle, but also an effectively funny counterpoint to Bullock’s burned-out countenance. And if Loretta feels her true archaeological chops are under-appreciated by the Dash-adoring masses, she finds them utilized in a less than desirable way by billionaire Abigail Fairfox (Daniel Radcliffe), who kidnaps her to a remote island where he demands she decipher a map to uncover a priceless treasure – The Crown of Fire. Given his English nationality and youth, Radcliffe is an entertaining blend of colonialist and tech billionaire air, like if John Bull had gone into a cocktail shaker and come out as Jack Dorsey, the character acting like he’s Loretta’s friend, like he’s doing her a favor, until her results don’t match his timetable and he gets ticked off, amusingly personifying an impatient corporate bigwig as your fake friend.

Rather than merely create one romantic interest for Loretta, “The Lost City“ essentially creates two, in the form of both Alan, his travel neck pillow an emblem for his persona much more than his flowing man which is revealed as fake, and Jack Trainer, an ex-Navy SEAL who Alan enlists to conduct a rescue operation of Loretta. The latter is played by Brad Pitt with a real flowing mane of hair and an air that can be debonair or dickish, depending on the light so to speak, both a foil for the hapless Alan and an ostensibly unapproachable ideal that Alan will ultimately live up to. Though the rhythmic effortlessness of the Pitt-led action sequences sing in harmony with his amusingly wry performance, The Brothers Nee are more content to let Bullock and Tatum carry their more haphazard scrambling version of adventure on their own. Not that this is a bad thing. The only movie special effect this reviewer needs is Sandra Bullock struggling to ascend a stool in high heel pumps.

True, Bullock and Tatum never smolder in the manner of Kathleen Turner and Michael Douglas. Despite the latter movie being PG, the romance was more PG-13, while the former romance is more PG despite the movie being PG-13, a conundrum that might well define the two eras. But that does not mean Bullock and Tatum fail to evince their own romantic vibe. Theirs is a gradually blooming mutual attraction where Alan realizes Loretta does not necessarily need rescuing and Loretta realizes Alan is not incapable, a familiar arc invested with charming believability by the leads. Even if Bullock seems to take the subplot of her being a widow more seriously than the movie, which can sometimes threaten to flatten the proceedings rather than ground them, she succeeds at playing irritated and irritable without ever becoming irritating, a key distinction, while allowing that exasperated emotional cloud cover to innately pass. Tatum, meanwhile, might merely be repurposing the stock role of himbo with a brain but man alive does this guy have a gift for playing good-natured dufuses more attuned to their inner-worth than their outer allure. The sequence where a frightened Alan strips so Loretta can pick leeches from his body is nothing new in theory but elevated in the acting, one of those sublime movie moments where kooky and poignant merge to improbably make us believe that in seeing his what-have-you up close and personal she somehow really is seeing him for the first time. 

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