- Directed by: Aaron Nee, Adam Nee
- Comedy/Action/Adventure | PG-13 | 1 hr 52 min
By Reed Ripley
Few things are more disappointing than a film with a fun premise, a great cast …and a terrible script. Enter The Lost City.
On paper, this film sounds so fun. The pitch meeting probably went something like this: let’s do Raiders of the Lost Ark but make it a rom-com featuring two charismatic stars, say Sandra Bullock and Channing Tatum. Let’s throw in Danielle Radcliffe hamming it up as the villain and a cheeky Brad Pitt cameo for good measure. Excellent! Cut, print, check the gate.
There’s also great character work built into the premise: Loretta Sage (Bullock), is a linguist/scholar-turned-adventure romance novelist who detests her own work, and, five years after her archeologist husband died, struggles to churn out what she considers ‘schlock.’ This feeling is personified in Alan (Tatum), her novels’ cover model who outwardly bathes in the glow of his fans’ adoration while inwardly longing for Loretta’s validation.
The set-up is good, too: After the release of Loretta’s newest book, The Lost City of D, Abigail Fairfax (Radcliffe), an eccentric billionaire with a penchant for ancient collectibles, kidnaps Loretta and whisks her away to a remote island. As it so happens, as a plot point in her book, Loretta decoded an ancient cuneiform language, and Fairfax believes she is the only one who can lead him to the island’s long-lost treasure. Meanwhile, Alan sets off to save her, hoping to prove he’s just as valuable as his fictional counterpart, and hijinks ensue.
Disappointingly, the script took all these wonderful elements and produced what must come close to the worst possible outcome. Fundamentally, for this film to really work, Bullock had to be the best part, and she just wasn’t, and it clearly wasn’t her fault. The script hardly builds up her character beyond the base points, at least not until way too late in its runtime. Beyond transcribing one scrap of parchment and rocking a sequin jumpsuit, she doesn’t get anything fun to do, à la an Indiana Jones. For a film that literally says to Loretta “this is your story,” it didn’t seem much interested in telling it.
Bullock’s Loretta is the script’s biggest casualty, but everything suffers. Radcliffe’s Fairfax is comically one-note and isn’t given enough space to create a memorable villain, despite valiant attempts to make the most of his screen time. The puzzle-solving aspects that so define these types of action/adventure movies (decode ancient document here, find hidden waterfall there, etc.) aren’t interesting, which makes the rest of the script’s holes even more glaring. Tatum’s Alan is the only one who gets decent treatment, but without anything of substance to bounce off (save the fleeting five-minute Pitt cameo), it falls short.
Moreover, every time a character has a good joke or quip, the script can’t help but keep pulling the thread, and bits of banter often run one, two, or three lines too many. It’s emblematic of the creative forces behind this film who got a little too pumped about what a great idea lay before them.
There’s a growing clamor from movie fans of a certain age (i.e., millennials and up) that we just don’t get ‘these’ kinds of movies anymore. Adult dramas, romantic comedies, fun, original action and adventure stories; basically, the wide middle class of theatrical releases.
The Lost City is facially an answer to these prayers, but that can’t be the sole reason to prop it up as a successful return to form. As important as the existence of film’s middle class is, it’s just as important for those films to work. One can’t ignore the latter in service of the former.
The Lost City isn’t terrible, but that’s exactly the point. The premise and stars are so good, and so in their element, that the film’s floor is incredibly high. But it could have been so much better, and that’s a shame.
Reed Ripley is a local movie aficionado who in his spare time is a attorney. You can find Ripley’s movie reviews on Instagram @mct.film and at www.ripleysreviews.com.