One could easily accuse The Lost City of cribbing from the classics. The fizzy action comedy sees the romance author Loretta Sage (played masterfully by Sandra Bullock) get dragged to a mysterious tropical island, where she’s forced to contend with the kind of high-stakes adventure she writes about. She’s joined there by Alan Caprison (Channing Tatum), the beefy model who graces all of her book’s covers; predictably, the two end up together. The Lost City’s premise is pretty much the same as that of Romancing the Stone, the 1984 Robert Zemeckis hit that cast Kathleen Turner as the novelist Joan Wilder and Michael Douglas as her love interest, the scoundrel smuggler Jack T. Colton.
The two movies have one crucial difference, though. In Romancing the Stone, Jack can hold his own in a fight and swing around the jungle with aplomb. But in The Lost City, Alan is a sweetly simple lunkhead more skilled at keeping his skin exfoliated than he is at wielding a firearm. It’s Tatum at his himbo finest.
Over the course of his career, Tatum has made action flicks (he was a frontman of the G.I. Joe franchise), Oscar-geared dramas such as Foxcatcher, many Soderbergh collaborations, and the odd romantic weepy, but I’ve always valued him most as a comedy A-lister. He excels at combining half-baked jokes with a little heroic derring-do to spin up watchable films, destined for reruns on basic cable. That funny streak made him into a major player in the 2010s with features such as 21 Jump Street and Magic Mike. But Tatum hasn’t had any live-action lead roles since his 2017 performance in Logan Lucky—with the recent exception of February’s surprisingly successful Dog (which he starred in and co-directed). His career break was long enough that I worried he’d lost his airheaded edge.
I shouldn’t have feared. Tatum first appears on-screen in character as Loretta’s literary hero “Dash McMahon.” He’s wearing a splendid blond wig and bursting out of a white shirt—a level of preening absurdity that he maintains for the entire movie. Early in the film, Loretta is kidnapped by a billionaire called Abigail Fairfax (Daniel Radcliffe), who demands her help translating ancient runes that could lead to buried treasure. Despite Alan’s cluelessness, he tries to rescue her, enlisting the help of a former Navy SEAL he met in a yoga class named Jack Trainer who, in a self-aware piece of casting, is played by … Brad Pitt.
Younger viewers might be bowled over upon hearing this, but Pitt was once the himbo heartthrob of his day. He broke onto the scene as a handsome hayseed in Thelma & Louise, and later oozed sweet idiocy in indies such as Johnny Suede, Cool World, and True Romance. Hollywood eventually diverted him to more serious projects, but Pitt has always known how to undercut his chiseled looks with winsome guilelessness. Here, he’s resplendent with horrendously long hair, taking down villains with martial-arts skills and dispensing meaningless fortune-cookie wisdom. It’s a vision of the kind of performance Tatum could be giving 20 years from now.
Trainer eventually exits the frame, and The Lost City shifts its focus to Loretta and Alan, who bicker and flirt their way through the jungle in search of help, and Fairfax’s mysterious treasure. Bullock, as usual, makes her glamorous character seem relatable and down-to-earth—the mark of a rom-com superstar. Meanwhile Tatum embodies all of the cartoonish extremes that make his performances so fun. Conan O’Brien has joked that Mr. Burns was his favorite character to write on The Simpsons, “because he had two qualities that are perfect if you’re a comedy writer and want to have fun: he’s infinitely old, and he has unlimited wealth. And he’s evil … There is literally nothing you can’t do with Mr. Burns.” Similarly, Tatum at his best is infinitely stupid, limitlessly handsome, and fundamentally good. That’s the magic formula of the himbo, and the cornerstone of The Lost City’s easy humor. The movie may not reinvent any reliable formulas, but its charm makes the case that studios should not give up on them just yet.