The Lost City is one of those movies that you walk into with a pretty good idea of what it is. Sandra Bullock, Channing Tatum, Daniel Radcliffe, and a stunt-casted Brad Pitt. A story of an author stuck in writer’s block, trying to work through it by imagining endless scenarios. Only, it’s not exactly that. And yet, somehow it exactly is. I only watched one trailer for The Lost City. Something I rarely do. It wasn’t because I decided I didn’t want to, rather it was simply because the trailers seemed to elude me. I had to go find the one trailer I watched, and having seen it, I figured I had a pretty good idea of what I was going to get. There is probably a comment worth making here about the film’s marketing, but it could just as likely have been the result of some predeterministic algorithm that I wasn’t led to by the trailer. Having rewatched the trailers after seeing the movie, it seems to have been a good thing I didn’t remember much. There is an entire conversation centered on the lack of thought that goes into trailers—so many give away too much, or load the best jokes into a two minute preview. This review won’t focus on that conversation, just suffice it to say, if you haven’t watched a trailer for The Lost City, don’t!
There are formulas to Romantic Comedies, or Rom-Coms. Generally speaking, there is an embattled lead, often post break-up or tragic loss. There is a new love interest, who almost always appears unappealing at the start, but is exactly what the lead needs. And there is some kind of conflict that helps the lead overcome their initial distaste of the new love interest. It’s like Hallmark Christmas movies. Actually, it’s almost exactly like Hallmark Christmas movies, not just in the fact that the formula has become a bit of a joke on its own, but also because despite being largely predictable, the appeal doesn’t ever really fade. As a kid raised by a single mom for ten years, my Rom-Com game is strong. They are silly and perfectly digestible, and I actually love them. The Lost City slides into the genre comfortably, with a healthy side of…Indiana Jones?
So Sandra Bullock’s Loretta Sage is a lovelorn romance/adventure writer, trying desperately to find a way to reignite her career as a romance novelist. Wildly popular but disengaged from her work, she begrudgingly goes on a press tour for her latest book. Along for the tour is her longtime cover model and beautiful dork Alan, played by beautiful dork Channing Tatum. Alan is more than a small part of her unwillingness to go on the press tour, often stealing the spotlight by simply tearing off his shirt in front of chanting fans. Honestly, the initial set up is plenty to watch a movie for. Bullock and Tatum have a great dynamic. Introduce Harry Potter—sorry—Daniel Radcliffe, as eccentric billionaire Abigail Fairfax, a possibly real treasure, and a little bit of kidnapping, and you’ve got me by the ear.
Mirroring Loretta Sage’s writing, The Lost City very much is a Rom-Com, but it’s also equally an adventure movie. But rather than pitting qualified heroes against a series of tests, here we are watching two supremely unqualified people stumble their way through a treasure hunt. Honestly, it works really well. It’s not an altogether unique take but, once again, leaning into the formula is to be expected here. When The Lost City decides to lean into its formulaic nature, it does so with purpose. Do our heroes mess up when you expect them to? Yes. Are there a few moments with “unexpected” surprises? Yes. Does it still somehow work? Yes.
This might sound, to some, like I am taking the piss out of this movie, but that could not be further from the truth. There isn’t anything inherently wrong with adhering to a type of genre structure. Knowing and understanding those boundaries allows you to push and play with them. Brother directors Aaron and Adam Nee know how to evoke and capture physical comedy, the writing team knows their actors well, and the cast is positively stellar. The humor ranges from pratfalls to one-liners, the stunts are largely practical, and the storytelling is clippy and irreverent. Is it going to land on anyone’s Oscar lists? Likely not. But is it going to be a movie that people enjoy, broadly? Based on the packed theater on preview night, yes. Save for the lady next to my wife and I who complained that the people acknowledged in the credits were “ridiculous.” She just wanted to see where it was filmed after all.
The Lost City is everything you want and expect it to be. A goofy romp through the jungle with one of the most unlikely pairings you have ever seen. Sandy B and Channing Tatum? Not on my bingo card. But I would watch a sequel in a heartbeat. Maybe Loretta Sage will find another book in her. I sure hope so. | Caleb Sawyer