The thing I miss most about cable television is the random afternoon movie. Remember? Home on any old weekend, you turn on the TV and find a studio picture from the eighties or nineties, already thirty minutes in, and you cannot look away. Maybe it’s the attractiveness of the stars, or the undeniable chemistry of the two leads, or the quippy dialogue, or the dreamy locales. Maybe it’s the pageantry of well-choreographed fight scenes, explosions, and car chases. You won’t be moving from the couch until the film is over, after which you’ll ask your mom to drive you to Blockbuster so you can rent the movie and catch up on what you missed at the start.
I like to think of it as “the TNT movie.” It is my very favorite kind of film. It can be action, rom-com, thriller, or mystery, though it often borrows elements from all. The platonic ideal of the TNT movie is, of course, Jurassic Park, but other favorites include Raiders of the Lost Ark, The Fugitive, When Harry Met Sally, The Last of the Mohicans, One Fine Day, Working Girl, and Speed. Sometimes these movies win awards, but usually not. Occasionally they are objectively bad films—take Overboard, for example—but remain beloved because they do exactly what the Moving Pictures were made to do: entertain and provide escape.
So when I say that The Lost City, an adventure rom-com by Adam and Aaron Nee that premiered at SXSW on Saturday night, is the sort of movie I want to watch in phases on TNT over a few random afternoons, that is very high praise. The film, which comes to theaters nationwide on March 25, has romance, mystery, gorgeous scenery, explosions, actually funny jokes, and a dynamite cast. Its two leads—Sandra Bullock, who plays an emotionally unavailable romance novelist kidnapped by an eccentric billionaire (played expertly by Daniel Radcliffe), and Channing Tatum, as the himbo cover model determined to save her—are movie stars for a reason. Hot as hell, and almost painfully charming, they have chemistry that’s easy but electric, and they are committed to every bit, no matter how silly or slapstick. Formidable physical comedians, they are a joy to watch, not just for the way they read lines or play off each other during scenes that were clearly ad-libbed, but also for quieter choices, such as Bullock’s lurching around in pumps with the heels ripped off, or the way Tatum rolls his trolley suitcase at the airport.
Not a moment goes by in which The Lost City doesn’t offer something joyful to its audience. Bullock and Tatum aren’t the only delightful members of the cast. Radcliffe, playing against type as a villainous man-child who will stop at nothing in his quest to find an invaluable ancient artifact, starts off sweet, if cloying, then devolves into bulging-eyed, veiny-necked mania. Da’Vine Joy Randolph is a dream as Bullock’s publicist and BFF, and Patti Harrison and Bowen Yang (as Bullock’s social media manager and book tour host, respectively) are both so funny, one wonders if the reason their characters are in so little of the movie is because they stole too many scenes.
That’s not to say the film is without flaw. Some of its underlying messaging about taking chances and moving on in the face of pain and fear feels ramrod at times. But it’s a rom-com, and the rules of its genre require the protagonist to go on an internal journey that parallels the plot. Viewers who like their comedy to be elevated might tire of The Lost City’s reliance on penis and poop jokes, but I am not one of those viewers. Neither were the other several hundred people in Austin’s Paramount Theatre during the premiere, it seems, since we provided a steady chorus of guffaws for the entire one hour and 52 minutes of the film.
They don’t make movies like this anymore, and the ones that almost fit the bill have the gall to be three hours long with post-credits scenes that’re really just marketing materials for whichever conglomerate owns the IP. The Lost City isn’t Spider-Man 16, or the newest, grittiest remake of a film I swear they make every year and a half. The Lost City is a jaunty little picture with bright colors, funny jokes, good-looking celebrities flirting with each other, and enough mystery to keep the viewer attentive until the credits roll. It’s not trying to win awards or set up a trilogy, or be the flagship of some major studio’s next phase of corporate storytelling. It’s not even trying to make a star out of anybody, because its three leads are already A-list.
The Lost City exists to entertain, and in this goal it is successful. I would watch it on TNT any day of the week.