How charming is “The Lost City”? So charming that the villain is played by Daniel Radcliffe. So charming that it leaves you wondering why nobody has asked Sandra Bullock and Channing Tatum to host the Oscars, or make an “Ocean’s 8” sequel in which he’s the mark, or team up for a series of PSAs in which they just banter for 30 seconds and make everyone feel better. So charming that the popcorn I was holding simply vanished, with no memory of it having ever existed. So charming that Brad Pitt, who pops by for an extended cameo, is not even the most charming person in it — and that, my friends, is a lot of charm.
“The Lost City,” directed by brothers Aaron Nee and Adam Nee, is no masterpiece; you sense that in the hands of a lesser cast, it might even have been a bit of a slog. Its story feels both ridiculous and predictable: Loretta Sage (Bullock), the reclusive author of bestselling romantic adventure novels, gets kidnapped while wearing a purple sequined jumpsuit (this is an important detail) by an eccentric rich dude (Radcliffe) who hopes she can lead him to a lost treasure in an ancient city alluded to in her recent book. Alan (Tatum), the absurdly handsome cover model for her book series, takes it upon himself to rescue her. Lots of running about in the jungle ensues, along with other “Romancing the Stone”-ish complications that you can likely figure out for yourself.
But Bullock and Tatum take hold of the material and turn it into an enchanted screwball. These two characters, we learn, don’t initially like each other very much: Loretta complains to her long-suffering agent (Da’Vine Joy Randolph) that “he’s always glistening all over the place”; Alan calls Loretta a “human mummy,” only to be reminded that mummies are human. (Alan is not the brightest bulb in the box, something Tatum plays with a sweetly masterful deadpan; referring to Loretta as a “word writer extra ordinary.”) After the kidnapping, Alan engages the services of a contractor skilled in jungle rescue (a grinning Pitt, having a ball) but insists on coming along on the mission, “for backup and awesomeness.” I cannot begin to describe how perfectly Tatum delivers that line, and I would like to get it as a ringtone.
The comic chemistry between these two is off the charts, and it’s such a pleasure to see Bullock, who’s been taking a detour into heavy drama lately (“Bird Box,” “The Unforgivable”), reminding us that she’s both the most likable of stars and a brilliant comedian. Watch her variety of funny walks; note how Loretta’s posture changes in that jumpsuit (it’s as if she’s apologizing for it); and listen as both she and Tatum mutter asides to each other that feel entirely spontaneous. Maybe they are? Here’s hoping these two team up again, immediately; we need them.