Between Jungle Cruise, Journey 2: The Mysterious Island and the rebooted Jumanji franchise, the 2010s have rendered the cinematic landscape of Hollywood’s brand of jungle-set adventure comedy a vast, dense rainforest. In recent years, the formula of bankable stars playing intrepid and not all that intrepid explorers strapped with whip-smart dialogue in an environment ripe for all manner of physical funnies has become a staple of the studio movie machine.
It’s perhaps hardly surprising then that most of what can be found in The Lost City can also be located in almost everything similar to have come out during the last decade. Dirt. Danger. Dastardly villains. Dull MacGuffins. An unlikely duo plucked from cushy civilisation and plonked woefully unprepared into an unforgiving wilderness. The genre’s familiar ‘D’s are all present, with the exception of one. Dwayne Johnson, a ubiquitous feature of these riotous, rural escapades, is nowhere to be seen.
The letter D itself, meanwhile, is central, forming part of ‘The Lost City of D’: the latest instalment in a series of smutty adventure-romance novels by widow and author, Loretta Sage (Sandra Bullock). Despite the books’ popularity, aided in no small way by Alan (Channing Tatum), a Fabio-inspired cover model who has become the de facto face of the story’s handsome hero Dash, Sage feels largely uninspired – disenfranchised with her very own franchise.
About to embark on what will be her final book tour, she quickly finds herself embarking on an altogether different trip when she is kidnapped by billionaire brat Abigail Fairfax (a wonderfully hammy Daniel Radcliffe) and thrust into a cat-and-mouse hunt for a precious ancient artefact hidden on a remote volcanic island in the Atlantic Ocean.
Along with a haphazard rescue party comprising Alan and an ex-navy seal-turned-personal trainer called Jack Trainer (a scene-stealing cameo from Brad Pitt), Sage finds herself caught up in an adventure that could have easily been lifted directly from one of her manuscripts. Clad in a pink sequined onesie and complete with all manner of threat – treacherous terrain, wildlife, Fairfax’s goons, and Alan himself, a well-meaning hunk with a cracking bod and only the vaguest grasp of idioms – they set off to unearth the treasure and also the traces of deeper feelings that may have been hiding in plain sight all along.
The Lost City is perhaps the quintessential three-star blockbuster, which is to say its charm and A-lister chemistry masks what is an otherwise gaping chasm of narrative ingenuity. With a basic plot that feels at best generic and at worst an afterthought, rarely does Aaron and Adam Nee’s film veer from the path well-trodden. Its several sub-plots feel equally uninspired: one involving Loretta’s manager, Beth (an enjoyably game Da’Vine Joy Randolph), on a one-woman rescue mission even feels like a regressive return to the dated ‘Black best friend’ trope.
What propels the film, however, is the indelible charisma of its two leads. In Bullock and Tatum, The Lost City commendably leans into a curious mismatch that works precisely because of that very fact. Together, they might make the worst survival duo going but, as it turns out, a pretty formidable comedic pairing. Amid gags involving leaches and a script laden with contemporary quips lies a neat inversion of traditional gender roles as Tatum continues his refreshing subversion of Hollywood’s macho hyper-masculinity. Bullock, meanwhile, has plenty of fun in a film that from the get go has its tongue lodged firmly in its cheek.
It’s silly, predictable genre fare. But silly, predictable genre fare with this much charm is often hard to come by.
George Nash is a freelance film journalist. Follow him on Twitter via @_GeorgeNash for more movie musings