The Lost City review: a swooning slice of spectacle

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Sandra Bullock, Channing Tatum, and Daniel Radcliffe shine in The Lost City, a terrific comedy treat  – here’s our review. 

Sometimes you just have to throw flowers at the feet of a movie’s casting team. Whoever came up with the idea to unite Sandra Bullock and Channing Tatum as an unlikely comedy double act deserves all of the praise in the world. The Lost City catches fire from the first minute thanks to its central duo, hitting comic high note after comic high note. In terms of pure fun, this might just be one of the most joyous cinema experiences of the year so far.

Bullock is romance novelist Loretta Sage, who pens lurid adventure tales inspired by her past love of archaeology. As she puts it, “it’s real history. I merely season it with a bit more nudity.” Alan Caprison (Tatum) is her dim-witted cover model, donning a ludicrous blonde wig and determined to maintain people’s belief that he’s a real hero. The release of Loretta’s latest novel The Lost City of D inspires eccentric billionaire Abigail Fairfax (Daniel Radcliffe) to kidnap her in the hope that she can lead him to the real lost city and its associated treasures. Alan sees a chance to find the real hero within and bring Loretta home.

It’s the perfect scaffolding for a silly adventure movie of the kind that’s really having a moment on the big screen of late, whether it’s Uncharted, the surprisingly excellent recent Dora the Explorer film or any of those movies where The Rock wears khaki in a jungle. Sibling directing duo the Nee Brothers put the narrative pedal to the floor early on, with Alan and Loretta stranded together in the wilderness when the attempt to rescue her doesn’t quite go according to plan.

Bullock holds the movie together with a performance of exquisite comic timing, saddled with a ludicrous, glittery pink one-piece which couldn’t be less suitable for the jungle. She has terrific comic chemistry with Tatum, who has found the perfect vehicle for the himbo charm he has so often harnessed on the big screen, including in the Magic Mike movies. You can’t decide whether you want to sleep with him or read him a bedtime story. He might be thick enough to comment that Loretta should “visit Ancient Greece” if she wants to relax, but he also radiates big-hearted warmth and is lovable enough that the budding romance between the duo is utterly believable.

The third key cast member is something of a wildcard, with Radcliffe again leaning in to his propensity for playing over-cranked weirdos. It’s a register in which the former boy wizard excels, giving Fairfax a jittery unpredictability which makes him as dangerous as he is funny. Even when his villainy goes up another level to inject further stakes into the third act, Radcliffe’s intense mania finds room to accommodate it. Given his next role is as the musician Weird Al Yankovic, it’s fair to say there’s plenty more room for Radcliffe to get strange on the big screen.

All of the central performers thrive in this world and are clearly having a ball tossing around the script’s selection of one-liners. There’s an improvisational feel to a lot of the comedy beats, but this manifests in a way that polishes and energises the script rather than overwhelming it in the way that the endless riffs of noughties Judd Apatow comedies often did. And when the time comes for things to blow up and spectacle to take centre stage, the Nee Brothers rise to that challenge as well.

That’s not to say that everything works. Loretta’s publicist and buddy Beth (Da’Vine Joy Randolph) feels like a rather outdated example of the “Black best friend” trope, despite the strength and commitment of Randolph’s fun performance. There’s also something a little distasteful about the fact that natives of the island where the action takes place – the movie shot mostly in the Dominican Republic – are characterised as either corrupt or quaintly traditional.

Issues aside, though, The Lost City is the sort of slightly old-fashioned, swooning slice of spectacle that Hollywood has lost sight of in recent decades amid the reliably ching-chinging cash registers of franchises. It’s a clownish adventure tale, with a romance between two preposterously beautiful people at its heart, and some stunning locations. After two years of intense anxiety and indoor confinement, there’s a real joy in keeping it simple.

The Lost City is in UK cinemas from 13th April.

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