Loretta Sage has an interesting past. She studied archeology in school, then became a best-selling romance novelist, with 20 books published: lots of heavy breathing and exotic adventures. She’s found it harder to function, though, both in her work and in her life, since her husband died, five years ago.
Her latest novel is called “The Lost City of D.” That book shares most of its title with “The Lost City.” Loretta’s past becomes even more interesting present when a white-suited kajillionaire kidnaps her to help him translate some hieroglyphics or symbols or something to lead him to a legendary necklace called the Crown of Fire, located in, yes, the lost city of D. The ruins are “on a tiny forgotten island in the Atlantic,” the kajillionaire not very helpfully explains. (Much of the movie was shot in the Dominican Republic.) It just so happens that the tiny forgotten island has an active volcano on it — and it’s been rumbling — so fasten your geological seatbelts as well as your geographic ones. “The Lost City” is that kind of movie.
But back to those novels: The heavy breathing between their covers can’t compare to the heavy breathing inspired by their covers. That’s because the image of Alan Caprison adorns them. He is a male model in full Fabio mode. (Remember him?) Loretta finds Alan annoying. He finds her irresistible, not that she notices. So Alan sets out to find and rescue her.
That’s a lot to take in, isn’t it?
To simplify things, just imagine a mix-and-mismatch version of “Raiders of the Lost Ark” and “Romancing the Stone.” You get action. You get romance. You get comedy. Sometimes it works — let’s say 12 percent of the time — and “The Lost City” can actually be deft and imaginative. Unfortunately, that leaves 88 percent which doesn’t.
Sandra Bullock plays Loretta. “Plays” may not be the right word. “Works at”? “Browbeats”? Brittle and flinty, Bullock’s performance makes Loretta seem even more maladroit than she’s supposed to be. Where’s Amy Adams when you need her? Nicole Kidman? Jessie Buckley’s too young for the part, but a comedy role for her is overdue.
It doesn’t help that Bullock spends most of the movie wearing a glittery magenta jumpsuit with a plunging neckline (don’t ask). “You’re basically a walking disco ball,” Alan points out when she wonders why the bad guys in pursuit keep finding them.
It really doesn’t help, comparatively speaking, that Alan is played by Channing Tatum. With deadpan glee, he gives himself up to playing a beefcake doofus; and the result is quite enchanting. Alan is a gender-reversal blond bimbo. He’s a sexy dim bulb, only the curves are in different places. “Wait, I’m the damsel in distress?” a perplexed Alan asks the kajillionaire. See, he’s not as dumb as he looks.
Playing the rich guy, Daniel Radcliffe displays a Rumpelstiltskin energy that’s quite winning. If only he could have loaned some to Bullock. Radcliffe has a beard whose bushiness nicely complements those thick eyebrows of his. It’s been 11 years since the last Harry Potter movie. It’s time for a new franchise. Somebody at Marvel should cast Radcliffe as Wolverine Jr.
Da’Vine Joy Randolph, as Loretta’s editor, is overbearing. Her presence does prove crucial to resolving the plot. That’s not the case with Brad Pitt, who’s only briefly on hand. But he’s such fun in a brief appearance, playing a mercenary brought in by Alan to help spring Loretta, that that’s okay. Plus, he gives you a reason to wait through the first minute or two of the credits. I can reveal no more. Let’s just say it adds to the 12 percent and leave it at that.
THE LOST CITY
Directed by Aaron and Adam Nee. Written by the Nees, Oren Uziel, Dana Fox, Seth Gordon. Starring Sandra Bullock, Channing Tatum, Daniel Radcliffe, Da’Vine Joy Randolph, Brad Pitt. At Boston theaters, Kendall Square, suburbs. 112 minutes. PG-13 (violence and some bloody images, suggestive material, language, partial nudity, though there’s nothing partial about the view of Tatum’s buttocks)
Mark Feeney can be reached at email@example.com.