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A trove of comedy gold is found in The Lost City, but some of it’s fool’s gold.

Romancing the Page

Eewww. Awkward.
Eewww. Awkward.

It sounds like a rehash of Romancing the Stone, the classic romantic adventure comedy starring Kathleen Turner as a romance novelist who is thrust into the thick of real adventure after she finds out her sister’s been kidnapped in Cartagena, Colombia. Along the way, Turner’s character meets a rogue played by Michael Douglas and she finally finds her own love story.

The Lost City stars Sandra Bullock as a romance novelist who is kidnapped and thrust into the service of a rich brat to find a lost treasure that he believes her latest novel holds the secrets to finding. Along the way, Bullock’s character meets a rogue played by Brad Pitt and she finally finds her own love story.

Well, wait a minute.

There’s more to it than that and it turns out The Lost City is a pretty darn good romantic adventure comedy that stands apart from the Turner/Douglas pairing. But, while it’s certainly not the rip-off it appears to be at first blush, it also doesn’t hold together quite as well as that 1984 surprise hit.

Sweeter After Difficulty

Here’s the whole setup: Loretta (Bullock) is a romance novelist with some history of her own. Her husband — who died five years ago — was an archaeologist and his work out in the field was a major source of inspiration for Loretta’s heroine and a guy named Dash, a Fabio-like hunk with streaming blond hair and an enviable physique. But, after 20 books, Loretta’s ready to shelve Dash and move on. Her latest book, The Lost City of D (not to be confused with the very real story told in The Lost City of Z), is trashed by critics and her promotional tour goes sideways when the book cover model for Dash, Alan (Channing Tatum), whom Loretta despises, finally pushes her to the point of implosion.

It’s at that point when Loretta is abducted by Abigail Fairfax (Daniel Radcliffe) and one of the twists is that Alan, who’s always held a bit of a crush on Loretta, endeavors to rescue her.

Enter Alan’s hired hand for the mission, Jack Trainer, played by none other than Brad Pitt.

This is the high point for the movie. Jack is wildly skilled; he’s totally over the top. He vaults over a razor wire fence, lands on the shoulders of an enemy, pivots to the ground and uses his legs to thrust the baddie against a truck and into unconsciousness. And he even knows “irregardless” isn’t a real word.

How else can a woman like Loretta respond than to ask one question? “Why are you so handsome?”

It’s great stuff and the movie at this point is moving forward with some terrific mojo. For his part, Pitt plays along with it and — seriously — he’s much better here than he was in his Oscar-winning role in the highly overrated Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. There will most certainly be no Oscar kudos for this popcorn piece, but it’s a role that generates laugh-out-loud reactions to Jack’s ridiculous skills and his hilarious dialogue. And it’s all capped with a stunning turn of events that must be kept secret to preserve the sanctity of the movie moment.

Crown of Fire

No so bad.
No so bad.

As the story rambles forward, there are plenty of classic Bullock and classic Tatum moments overstuffed with goofy humor that highlight Bullock’s mastery of making incredibly awkward moments sizzle. At one point, Loretta — zip-tied to a chair — is dumped into a wheelbarrow and then scrunched into the back seat of a ramshackle car. For his part, Alan is mostly clueless, but he manages to maintain a certain level of likability by the sheer force of his amiability.

In other words, both Bullock and Tatum are safely working in their comfort zones with this material and for the bulk of the movie, things work well. The rapid-fire nature of the comedy is kind of like Game Night; if one joke falls flat, there’s another joke a few frames down that’ll hit the mark.

Perhaps the most pleasant casting surprise is watching Radcliffe as the bearded baddie. Radcliffe — now a thirtysomething — is by all appearances aging well and tackling interesting roles far away from the wizarding world.

But, in some respects, Radcliffe’s character is part of what leads to the movie’s downfall in the third act. There’s a fine line to draw between the comic and the menace and it’s something Romancing the Stone was able to achieve. There was a sense of peril — of lives at stake — in that one that doesn’t quite land right here. Abigail Fairfax is a role designed around the comedic aspects while the maniacal madman that would engender a sense of danger is more of an afterthought.

Well of Endless Tears

Regarding that lost treasure, there’s a nice, thoughtful twist that tries mightily to rev the movie’s engine back up to high gear for a rousing conclusion, but the sweetness of the thoughtfulness is run over by a sense of the anti-climactic. It’s in the third act when the jokes start to fall flat — without a countering joke — with greater frequency.

Sure enough, The Lost City finds its way back to the relationship between Loretta and Alan and there’s the promise of more adventures to come. It’ll be interesting to see how that pans out; the surprising success of Romancing the Stone was followed by the equally surprising dud of Jewel of the Nile.

Much as Romancing the Stone was an early hit for director Robert Zemeckis, a similar path might be getting set here for the brothers Aaron and Adam Nee, who are the unlikely directors currently set to finally bring to the big screen a reboot of Masters of the Universe.

Before they head out to Eternia, though, they should heed a word of caution. As is the fashion for movies these days, there’s a post-end title cards tease of things to come. The problem is this tease breaks a major rule; instead of being an enticement, it borders on the insulting by actually spoiling some of the fun that had preceded it. It’s a betrayal of what was a great movie moment.

To the Brothers Nee: from here to Eternia, you must vow to never, ever betray your audience again.