Channing Tatum’s had a rough 2022 in terms of the movie roles he’s taken on. Dog — which he co-directed — was an incoherent mess that didn’t seem to know what it was about for most of its runtime, and Tatum’s performance was inconsistent at best. And now, The Lost City is an original adventure comedy starring four large movie stars — something I’d love to see more of! — but it’s messy and horribly unfunny.
At least when it comes to The Lost City, I can’t blame Tatum too much. It’s a script problem this time around. Tatum plays Alan, the cover model for a series of romance novels written by Loretta Sage (Sandra Bullock). Alan wishes he was the romantic action hero that his character Dash McMahon is, but in reality, he’s not very smart and seems to misunderstand the definition of most basic things; the only thing he’s good at (and the only thing his rabid fans want him to do) is taking his shirt off. At the start, the film seemed like it was going to be about artistic intent and readers forming their own interpretations — Loretta takes her work as an author very seriously, while her readers only seem to care about the superficial aspects of it. But those ideas are quickly abandoned.
The film instead decides to focus on Loretta being captured by Abigail Fairfax (Daniel Radcliffe), an eccentric billionaire who, based on the subjects of her novels, believes Loretta has the abilities to lead him to a hidden treasure on a hard-to-find island in the middle of the Atlantic. It’s definitely an amusing and intriguing premise, and with the talent involved, there’s no particular reason that the film itself shouldn’t be engaging, but it’s the lowbrow humor and unfunny repeated jokes and gags that go on for far to long that make this such a tough watch.
Beyond the immensely dull comedy, the story itself isn’t all that engaging. Adventure stories are fun, but they work best when you understand their motivations. Once Loretta is captured, Fairfax takes her to the hidden island, where Alan and his former Navy SEAL contact, Jack Trainer (Brad Pitt, of all people), go and rescue her. But after the successful rescue, the characters spend their time walking through the jungle with no clear purpose or goal. You could pass this off if there were other interesting things going on thematically or between characters, but we don’t get that here.
The one main saving grace of The Lost City is its charismatic stars. Yes, their charisma is toned way down by the stale script, but Radcliffe continues to show off his range, and it’s pretty difficult for Pitt and Bullock to not be serviceable at the very least, though they both exceed that by a bit here. Tatum is… fine. Again, it’s the script’s fault more than Tatum’s, but his character goes from being 100% incompetent to giving good, sound life advice at the drop of a hat, depending on what each specific scene needs from him. This makes it nearly impossible to understand the stakes, both physically and emotionally for the characters. And his will-they-won’t-they relationship with Bullock is totally unbelievable from minute one. Based on everything we know about the character of Loretta, there should be no romantic tension at all, yet the movie wants you to think there is some.
Maybe when we say we want more original movies, we should amend it to say we want more good original movies. Unfortunately, The Lost City is not that. As a comedy, it’s not funny. As an adventure, it’s not exciting. And as a romance, it’s not endearing. It’s a wasted chance for something more.