Streaming Releases: City of Gold (2018) - Reviewed

If you were to tell me a movie involving a magical city, a violent possession, a tortured Peruvian artist, and a buff biker babe could be entirely disinteresting, I would have said you were crazy—until I saw City of Gold, that is.

After his mogul father commits suicide, Jonathan Davenport (Robbie Allen) reconnects with Elisabeth (Riley Dandy), a former lover who intends to visit Peru to locate an artist hiding deep within the Amazon.  Deciding he has nothing to lose, Jonathan joins her, and they embark upon an adventure that leads to the awakening of an evil spirit inside of him and a hunt for the lost city of El Dorado.  Alongside a caravan of beefcake mercenaries hired by an art collector to protect them, Jonathan and Elisabeth journey deep into a region with a bloody history that is swarming with rebels attempting to thwart their mission.

The plot sounds intriguing enough, but the film only teeter-totters on its full potential.  For every element that makes City of Gold appealing, there is another that makes it eye-rolling—for instance, the decision to unveil its Inquisition-inspired backstory in 2D, motion comic-style animations throughout the film.  In theory, this is a welcomed divergence to the standard action-adventure film, but the execution is amateurish, flaunting CG flame effects and hackneyed “page-turn” transitions.  More engaging are the live action flashbacks to the 1500s where we witness the conquistadors’ brutality to the Incan Empire firsthand.  

Moreover, the pacing of the film is uneven.  While the editing is mostly transparent, as the film progresses, we are assaulted with choppy montages that clumsily disrupt the film’s inertia:  flash cuts of scenes that just happened are interspersed with other rapidfire shots to tie plot elements together, with melodramatic monologues sometimes accompanying these scatterbrained messes.  They seem like heavy-handed attempts to make some trudging moments more kinetic.  In sharp contrast, the build-up to the main action is sluggish.  We see inconsequential sequences like people pitching tents for over a minute of screen time that feel tedious.  The film reaches its climax and denouement at a snail’s pace, overstaying its welcome with drawn-out scenes that could have been trimmed to maintain momentum through the end.

While City of Gold is exceedingly lackluster, its few positive attributes are noteworthy.  The supernatural aspects of the plot are unveiled subtly yet effectively, with veteran actor Vernon Wells playing the formidable Inquisitor, haunting the protagonists from beyond the grave.  Riley Dandy’s performance as Elisabeth adds heart to the ensemble, especially at times when we cannot easily relate to Jonathan.  The jungles of Peru provide a lush backdrop for an exotic adventure, while the hunt for El Dorado that ensues is original enough to give the film a definitive identity.  

Nevertheless, City of Gold is not exciting enough to be a good action film, frightening enough to be a good horror film, nor adventurous enough to be a good adventure film, although it has elements of all three.  This film plays it safe, but to its own detriment.  We see here a rare instance where a film like this could have afforded to ditch some weighty plot development and exposition for a little more gratuitous violence and camp.  It would have made a stronger statement (albeit a less dignified one) and allowed the viewer to have a better time watching it. 

-Andrea Riley