Review: Sandra Bullock, Channing Tatum's 'The Lost City' is a blast until it loses saucy edge

Brian Truitt
USA TODAY

It’s a satisfying turn of events during Oscar week, when Hollywood’s busy getting gussied up for its big night, that Brad Pitt follows his Academy Award win with one of the silliest things he has ever done. We can only hope the academy’s watching again as a steely eyed Pitt (with flowing blond locks and a mean tan) pushes Sandra Bullock in a wheelbarrow while escaping from explosive certain death in “The Lost City.” 

Well, maybe they can just catch the first act. The star-studded throwback action comedy really cooks early on, then careens off the Temple of Doom.

Directed by Aaron and Adam Nee (“Band of Robbers”), “The Lost City” (★★½ out of four; rated PG-13; in theaters Friday) casts Bullock as Loretta Sage, a prickly novelist who, after the death of her archaeologist husband, has lost the will to write her hugely successful romance-adventure franchise.

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Novelist Loretta Sage (Sandra Bullock) and cover model Alan (Channing Tatum) seek a mythical Crown of Fire in the romantic adventure comedy "The Lost City."

The literary series has also made a success out of handsome and slightly dim Alan (Channing Tatum), the shirt-ripping cover model whom Loretta’s fans adore. For her latest, “The Lost City of D” – which Loretta sees as the swan song for adventure heroine Lovemore and her lover/partner Dash – she and Alan are teamed on a book tour by her publisher (Da’Vine Joy Randolph), where it’s clear that he's a lot more invested than Loretta.

Loretta’s pretty savvy when it comes to ancient history, though, and wealthy megalomaniac Abigail Fairfax (Daniel Radcliffe) kidnaps her because he thinks she’s his key to translating a piece of cuneiform and finding a mythical Crown of Fire in the aforementioned lost Atlantic city.

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Daniel Radcliffe (left, with Héctor Aníbal) is the villainous Abigail Fairfax in "The Lost City."

A rescue mission is mounted by new-agey special-ops guru Jack Trainer (Pitt), buff yet sensitive Alan comes along so he can be the one who saves Loretta, and the heroes navigate a series of mishaps to go after the treasure, too. If you can’t enjoy Bullock in a not-ready-for-the-jungle sequined jumpsuit picking leeches off Tatum’s bare butt, we can’t help you.

Much frivolity ensues, double entendres fly and the energy between Bullock and Tatum crackles – at first. But after a while, “Lost City” loses its saucy edge, side subplots slow the momentum, Pitt is essentially the film's best special effect, and both the adventure and romantic angles get mired in predictability.

Even Radcliffe, the erstwhile Harry Potter who receives a really nifty villainous opening, veers one-dimensional as Fairfax, the awkward millennial version of Belloq from "Raiders of the Lost Ark." And there’s nowhere near enough of Loretta’s drunk and sassy social media manager, played by “Together Together” standout Patti Harrison.

Jack (Brad Pitt, from left), Loretta (Sandra Bullock) and Alan (Channing Tatum) escape certain doom in "The Lost City."

Like Tatum’s character in a sort of meta sense, the film weirdly doesn’t realize how cool it could be. The audience gets a taste of the Lovemore and Dash that exist on the page and in Loretta’s head but that’s, unfortunately, a one-and-done opportunity. Also given the premise, a much more adult, R-rated version of “Lost City” would have worked – and felt less like an Indiana Jones/“Romancing the Stone” clone. At the very least, how about something a bit more mature than the word “throb” being repeated over and over again?

“The Lost City” isn’t a bad movie, and it’s sufficiently ridiculous for those seeking a gonzo escape with A-listers. You're just left wanting in general, be it extra Pitt or more ribaldry.