If you don’t have a few hours to watch the gleefully silly comedy “The Lost City,” just stare at the poster. Just about everything you need to know about this silly lark is crammed into one sheet: the stars, the tropical location, the Bruckheimer-esque fireball. The poster sells sex and violence and obvious laughter, with Sandra Bullock’s purple sequined onesie doing the heavy comedic work. And while she and Channing Tatum are the headliners, the studio has capped its bets by also cramming in a lurking goat and a Fabio-ed Brad Pitt.
The Goat and Pitt are among the highlights of the film, a high-concept romp about a widowed writer, Loretta Sage (Bullock), who makes an arduous return to the world. Loretta, a successful novelist, writes books with a handsome dreamboat and throbbing verbs. For tense reasons, she is kidnapped during a promo tour with the cover model for her books, Alan (Tatum). He tries to save her and soon they are joking during a jungle adventure with a lost treasure and a maddened rich villain (Daniel Radcliffe) and his henchmen. Bullets and pranks fly around and don’t always hit their target.
That’s more or less the film, which is basically a vehicle for Bullock to play her most enduring role: Sandra Bullock, your extremely lovable BFF. Real yet packaged, challenged yet unsinkable, the Bullock BFF has been a mainstay for decades. She’s endured tough moments, like in “Speed 2,” but has always bounced back, bolstered by a cleverly crafted, indomitable persona that’s wholesome, sardonic, and wacky, though (mostly) not abusive. Although she can handle a range of genres, she excels at comedy, in part because she can play a wide variety of performers: Like all BFFs, she makes a generous double act.
That said, it does take Bullock and Tatum to find their groove, in part because he’s not as comfortable in his lunkhead role as he should be. He plays a conventional sweet dope, a cliche role he plays fluently when he drags in Alan’s over-the-top cover model, complete with wavy hair and peekaboo-waxed chest. But he’s less easy when his character comes across as impossibly stupid, moments where he plays by influencing a bit of a whiny Mark Wahlberg song. Is it a tribute, coincidence – who knows? Whatever the case may be, Tatum seems happier when his character does better too, allowing him and Bullock to settle into a light-hearted intimacy.
For the most part, “The Lost City” delivers exactly what it promises: a couple of highly polished avatars who joke and hit their target, while occasionally getting ambushed by their second bananas (including Da’Vine Joy Randolph). There are some adaptations to contemporary mores. Tatum bares more skin than Bullock, showing off his sculpted hindquarters in a scene that, like the movie in general, isn’t as sharp or funny as it should be. But while Loretta isn’t as helpless as she was in the old studio days, this is still about a man who rescues a woman whose eye makeup never runs out, even when she does.
The director brothers Adam and Aaron Nee skillfully handle the many moving parts, working from a script they wrote with Oren Uziel and Dana Fox. Everything looks crisp and sharp, and there are times when the physical comedy kicks in, usually when Pitt is making an effort. Obviously, someone involved in the making of this film is a fan of Robert Zemeckis’ 1984 romp, “Romancing the Stone,” one of several adventurous pastiches made in the wake of “Raiders of the Lost Ark. ” While “Raiders” transcends its inspirations with humor and Steven Spielberg’s filmmaking and “Romancing” tries his best to do the same, “The Lost City” remains a copy of a copy.
It’s a shame “The Lost City” isn’t more ambitious, because a woman writing her dreams into reality is a potentially rich riff on the myth of Pygmalion and Galatea. Like “Romancing the Stone,” “The Lost City” begins with a scene from a book — like the purple prose and dashing hero — that the novelist-heroine is writing. In ‘The Lost City’ Loretta deletes the scene because it doesn’t work, but she can’t delete the hero. He’s a fantasy, but he’s all hers. That’s the appeal of movies like this, which at least understand that some of us are hungry for fairy tales, even fairy tales that promise the stars and give Channing Tatum mooning.
The Lost City
Rated PG-13 for bloodless violence and partial nudity. Running time: 1 hour 52 minutes. In theatres.