Lost City’s fish-out-of-water story gets a new take
The lost city is a fun, lighthearted comedy adventure driven largely by the comedic skills of its star cast. While the film doesn’t stand out as a particularly big contribution to the adventure-comedy genre, its copious laughs, stellar performances, and requisite moving moments are well worth the cost of admission.
The film follows scholar and novelist Loretta Sage (Sandra Bullock) after she is kidnapped by eccentric billionaire Abigail Fairfax (Daniel Radcliffe). Loretta is the only person alive who can translate the clues that lead to hidden treasure, and Abigail forces her to help him find the treasure so he can claim it for himself. Her insipid cover model Alan (Channing Tatum) comes to save her, and soon after, her overworked publicist Beth (Da’Vine Joy Randolph) embarks on an adventure of her own to save them both.
The film is a classic fish-out-of-water comedy: its humor comes from placing characters in unfamiliar environments that clash with their personalities. Watching a novelist, publicist and model thrust into the center of a grand adventure full of motorcycle chases, gunfire and an active volcano provides exactly the dose of fun promised in the trailers.
Bullock, Tatum and Randolph are effortlessly funny. They imbue their roles with the mix of quirky relatability and comedic character work necessary to push this type of film forward and provide consistent laughs. Radcliffe complements the more subdued humor of the three heroes with his perfectly over-the-top villain, and Brad Pitt and Oscar Nuñez revel in perfectly executed character roles.
The lost city takes a little longer than average to find its footing, and its poorly paced first act may have some audiences worried about what’s to come. Part of that is likely due to the movie being so reliant on its fish-out-of-water style that it’s not quite sure what to do when the fish are still comfortably swimming in their ponds. Thankfully, the film’s energy and pacing picks up quickly enough for it to redeem itself, and audiences will quickly find themselves laughing enough to forget the early pacing issues.
While The lost city is definitely a fun time with lots of laughs, it lacks a major element to similar but stronger films like the reboot of Jumanji (2017), Pirates of the Caribbean (2003), or even this year’s Unexplored (2022) provide: a strong sense of adventure. A good adventure comedy is one that can effectively balance the two genres, providing a sufficient amount of humor while retaining the sense of mystery, discovery, and excitement of classic adventure franchises like grave robber and IndianaJones.
The lost city lacks the puzzles, traps, mazes, twists, and grand puzzles that viewers expect from this type of film. There are a few moments – including a touching reveal about the treasure the characters are looking for – that are promising, but the film mostly misses many opportunities to indulge in the adventure side of the comedy adventure genre. Likewise, while there are some attempts at character development, the characters largely lack the depth that performers like Bullock, Randolph, and Tatum are more than capable of handling.
A movie like Jumanji, for example, is just as funny as the lost city, but finds a way to combine its humor with a plot that’s engaging enough and enough twists and adventures to satisfy both ends. For all his strong humor and great laughs, The lost city fails to do much more than make you laugh, and it struggles with both adventure and emotion. That being said, there’s promise: the film makes a few tries in both of these areas, but clearly needs a bit more work to develop them properly.
One of the film’s biggest failings is its disrespectful misrepresentation of romance novel fans. The film’s uncomfortable start attempts to derive humor from a contrast between Loretta’s intellectualism and her fans’ utter disinterest in anything but Alan’s abs. As Janice Radway argued years ago in his influential studies of romance readers, they often engage very intellectually and meaningfully in the novels they read, and contempt for their fandom is often rooted in misogyny and classism.
There’s a huge opportunity here for Loretta to confront her own biases and recognize the intellectual potential of engaging her fans with her novels. Particularly insightful fish-out-of-water stories end up finding ways to show the unexpected ways in which seemingly contradictory elements end up having startling similarities.
The film very briefly attempts to follow through on this potential in a scene where Alan encourages Loretta to be kinder to her fans, but it never fully manages to flow into a more sophisticated reflection on why the intellectual interest of Loretta for ancient history may not be so different from her fans’ interest in her novels. Again, the potential is there, and the film flirts with it briefly, but there’s a lack of follow through.
In general, a lack of follow-up seems to be The lost city biggest flaw. There’s a moment early in the film where Loretta’s unique thought process is visually displayed as she ponders the logic of her novel’s storylines. This moment carries a subtle suggestion that the film could follow in the footsteps of silence (2016) by depicting an author’s thought process through a visual cinematic technique. However, instead, this moment only exists at the very beginning of the film and is never referenced again. Likewise, Alan’s discussion with Loretta about his treatment of his fans is a promising start to a character journey that is never fully developed or addressed.
While The lost city had the potential to join the ranks of classic adventure comedies like Pirates of the Caribbean Where Jumanji, it ultimately settled for being a fun, solid comedy set in an adventure setting. That being said, it’s fun enough and funny enough to make it worth it, and it’s still worth more than the time of anyone who loves a good laugh and a good laugh.
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