Hollywood has spent decades trying to recapture the magic of Robert Zemeckis’ Romancing The Stone. The 1984 film is a phenomenal blend of action, adventure, and romance, with Kathleen Turner and Michael Douglas generating sparks in every scene they have together, and it’s a cinematic experience that has something for all audiences. We’ve seen all varieties of attempts to recreate it since its blockbuster release, from Lewis Teague’s 1985 sequel The Jewel of the Nile, to Ivan Reitman's Six Days Seven Nights, to Jaume Collet-Serra’s Jungle Cruise (which, you’ll remember, just hit theaters last year).
The latest, Aaron and Adam Nee’s The Lost City, is perhaps the most blatant example of this phenomenon we’ll get until there is some kind of behind-closed-doors consensus that enough time has passed for a full-on remake to be made. Once again, our protagonist is a successful-but-lonely romance writer who finds herself thrust into a plot resembling her genre style, and traverses a dangerous jungle with a handsome and brave companion with whom she frequently clashes. Character dynamics and story details are different, but their loglines are all but identical.
Identifying these parallels instantly creates a particular bar of expectations, and to The Lost City’s credit, the film is successful in many ways. Sandra Bullock and Channing Tatum are not quite on par with Kathleen Turner and Michael Douglas, but they do have terrific chemistry that lets them both play to their strengths, and there is some nice work done thematically that sets up a surprising ending. The problem is getting from Point A to that Point B, as the movie whiffs as far as doing anything creative or interesting with the development of its story, and regularly delivers the sense that there was a better version of the script that was drowned in rewrites.
The Lost City’s answer to Romancing The Stone’s Joan Wilder is Loretta Sage (Sandra Bullock), a novelist who has found tremendous success writing books about the dashing hero Dash McMahon, but has grown bored of the material – especially in the five years since the death of her husband. Not doing any favors to her emotional attachment to her male lead is Alan Caprison (Channing Tatum), the brainless cover model for the Dash McMahon series who has been riding her coattails from the start.
At the beginning of the press tour for her latest book, The Lost City Of D, Loretta shocks her fans by abruptly announcing that she is concluding the series – but that proves to be minimal drama compared to what she is in store for, as she finds herself kidnapped while leaving the event. Her captor is Abigail Fairfax (Daniel Radcliffe), a petulant and greedy billionaire, and he wants her help because he has discovered some surprisingly accurate archeological details in her new novel (details that originated from research done by Loretta and her deceased husband).
Loretta is taken to a small island to help in the search for a long lost treasure, and meanwhile her team back home, including her publicist Beth (Da'Vine Joy Randolph) and social media manager Allison (Patti Harrison), are freaking out about her disappearance. Alan comes up with the idea to both track her smart watch and hire an ex-military adventurer named Jack Trainer (Brad Pitt) to help find her, but all the while also pushes to be a part of the rescue – wanting to prove to the author that he is more than a pretty face and a blond wig.
The Lost City feels like an R-rated comedy that got heavily censored as it moved through development.
If the disconnect between the title of the movie and Loretta Sage’s book confuses you, the reason for it is a behind-the-scenes decision that saw “of D” cut from the name of the film. But it goes deeper than that (pun absolutely intended).
That “D” is intended to be exactly as provocative as you think it is, and a reference to the overwhelming horniness of popular romance literature (if you’re not getting the joke yet, the “D” stands for “Dick”). This is a gag that remains in the film, but it ultimately makes a kind of sense that the title was changed, because the broad sex joke isn’t actually representative of the comedy... even though it feels like it should be.
When Daniel Radcliffe’s Abigail Fairfax talks about a volcano being ready to “explode” and the Lost City of D “exposing” “just the tip” of itself while rising on an underground lava bubble, you get an inkling of the film that The Lost City wants to be, but isn’t. After all, the reason why Romancing The Stone is such a Holy Grail movie is because it sports an “all-audiences allowed” PG rating (admittedly given before PG-13 was created).
The Lost City could have been an adults-only contrast to the Robert Zemeckis-directed classic, full of dirty humor and horny winks to the bawdy material that inspired it (and the readers who eat it up), but it opts instead to just be a dull clone with safe, tepid jokes and mild nudity to bounce you through the formulaic plot.
Sandra Bullock and Channing Tatum are excellent together, and both get solid emotional arcs.
Having proven himself an excellent R-rated improviser in the Jump Street movies, Channing Tatum at moments feels hampered in his The Lost City performance (there’s quite a lot of apparent improv in the film), but it doesn’t actually hurt what is the strongest aspect of the production, which is the romantic chemistry between the two leads. Tatum’s cute-but-stupid balances well with Sandra Bullock’s acerbic wit, and what carries you through the movie is the evolution in their relationship, which the stars make feel organic. Its dramatic and emotional payoff tries to balance the lack of comedic payoff – but the total value of that is subjectively going to determine what audiences take away from the adventure.
When Romancing The Stone is inevitably given a remake treatment, I keep my fingers crossed that it won’t make the same mistakes that The Lost City does… which are the biggest pitfalls of any remake. With the classic being widely available, there is no real reason to be making more of the same – which sadly could very well be the tagline for this Sandra Bullock and Channing Tatum vehicle.
NJ native who calls LA home and lives in a Dreamatorium. A decade-plus CinemaBlend veteran who is endlessly enthusiastic about the career he’s dreamt of since seventh grade.
By Mike Reyes
By Mike Reyes
By Dirk Libbey