By Eleanor Ringel Cater
The well-done formula is one of the reasons the light romance novel, “The Lost City,” works. Another is the unassuming, easy-going chemistry between its two leads, Sandra Bullock and Channing Tatum.
Bullock plays Loretta Sage, a novelist whose bestsellers gave her a home fit for a Nancy Meyers movie, but whose heart remains locked in, having been widowed many years ago.
Tatum is Alan “Dash” Caprison, his role model coverboy, a faux-Fabio with flowing locks, a chiseled good looks, and an appropriately puffy shirt.
However, not all of her fans are middle-aged women — or, as the photo condescendingly calls them, women in their 30s who wish they were in their 20s. His books have also caught the eye of Abigail Fairfax (Daniel Radcliffe), a wealthy kid who thinks the writer can help him find the titular lost city and its treasure.
To that end, he kidnaps Loretta, and just like that (as Carrie Bradshaw devotees might say), Loretta is unwittingly caught up in an adventure worthy of one of her romance novels.
Enter our hero. Not, at first, Loretta’s would-be savior, Dash, who is smitten with her, but a dashing guy named Jack Trainer, played with Brad Pitt’s hilarious derring.
Pitt is only on board for an extended cameo, but he wakes the film up, so that, despite his obvious debt to older and better romantic comedies/adventures (“Romancing the Stone” being the most obvious pattern), the image settles into its own entertaining rhythm. Both Bullock and Channing are dedicated and skilled performers who realize they’re not recreating “The African Queen,” but putting the best shot at the uneven storyline. And their best is more than enough.
There’s a welcome feminist humor (“You mean I’m the damsel in distress,” Dash asks at one point) that pairs well with the film’s more traditional tropes. And everyone seems to be in the same movie, although Radcliffe’s character sometimes borders on Austin Powers’ over-the-top villainy (the script’s fault, not the actor’s).
A movie like this can go wrong in many ways and, until Pitt appears, sometimes it does.
Yet there is an unforced breeze here – a welcome self-awareness that achieves the seemingly impossible. Namely, a movie that plays by old-school rules without looking dated or silly (well, not too silly).
Bullock, Tatum and company didn’t reinvent the wheel, but they did grease it. Let’s be grateful for the little pleasures.
“The Lost City” is in theaters now and is also available to stream on Paramount Plus.