By Ann Hornaday
Is there anything Sandra Bullock and Channing Tatum can't do?
The two actors have charisma to burn, finely tuned comic chops and the kind of smouldering physical star power that manages to look effortless and superhuman at the same time.
But even gifts as prodigious as Bullock's and Tatum's can't keep "The Lost City" afloat.
That's not for lack of trying, or for a tantalisingly goofy premise.
Bullock plays Loretta Sage, a romance novelist and frustrated academic who has become borderline agoraphobic after the death of her husband.
Tatum plays Alan, the Fabio-loso male model who graces the covers of her books.
The two are classically mismatched: Loretta's a book-smart nerd, more interested in hieroglyphics than hooking up on Hinge; Alan is a sweet-natured lunkhead, whose main role is to show up at fan conventions in a wig worthy of "Legends of the Fall"-era Brad Pitt, do a few karate kicks and rip his shirt off.
All is going according to plan at their latest public appearance – although Loretta's publisher Beth (Da'Vine Joy Randolph) has inexplicably styled her best-selling author in a spangly fuschia-coloured jumpsuit –when Loretta is kidnapped by a petulant tycoon named Abigail Fairfax (Daniel Radcliffe).
Soon she's being whisked away to a remote island where Fairfax enlists her to translate an ancient map and track down a valuable buried artefact – if they're not buried by an erupting volcano first.
Viewers old enough to remember "Romancing the Stone" and the Indiana Jones movies – heck, anyone with passing familiarity with screwball rom-coms a la "It Happened One Night" – will recognise the broad contours of "The Lost City," which spoofs and pays homage to its predecessors with equally playful enthusiasm.
The first 45 minutes possess the referential zip of Austin Powers at his most cheekily irreverent, especially when Pitt himself shows up in a hilarious cameo.
Watching Alan. who could be channelling Pitt's character in "Burn After Reading", swoon over Pitt's hyper-macho Mr. Fix-It takes on a meta, through-the-looking-glass quality that gains in giddy mutual-referential weirdness as their bromance blooms.
But that piquant diversion turns out to be a tease, and when "The Lost City" gets down to executing its plot, it grows creakier with every painfully familiar twist.
Bullock's ridiculous get-up gets predictably more skimpy as Loretta and Alan make their way through the jungle.
In a hat-tip to "The African Queen," there's an improbable "Wow, you're actually quite sexy" scene involving leeches and Tatum's (or his body double's) tush.
Okay, the tush is adorable. As are Bullock and Tatum, who dive into "The Lost City" with the game, up-for-anything brio of seasoned professionals.
And there are some admittedly amusing verbal and sight gags, including a parody of the slow-motion-run-from-a-fireball cliché that is played for maximum awkwardness.
Best of all, "The Lost City" confects a reason for Tatum to lead Bullock in a sinuous, sexy dance, reminding us of why we all need "Magic Mike 3," stat.
Such bright spots aside, "The Lost City" ultimately can't keep the balloon entirely afloat – even as it clocks in at a relatively brisk 112 minutes.
There's nothing objectionable about "The Lost City," nor is there much that is memorable.
It's a throwback to a time when these kinds of one-off comedies weren't rare artefacts, or in danger of being buried under the volcanic ash of Hollywood's bygone business models.
It's fine. And sometimes fine is good enough.