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Sandra Bullock and Channing Tatum in The Lost City surrounded by snakes
Image: Paramount Pictures

Culture

The Lost City’s Fish out of Water Story is a Fresh Catch

The Lost City is a fun, light-hearted adventure comedy carried largely by the comedic skills of its all-star cast. While the film does not stand out as a particularly significant contribution to the adventure comedy genre, its plentiful laughs, stellar performances, and requisite touching moments make it more than worth the cost of admission.

The film follows scholar and romance novelist Loretta Sage (Sandra Bullock) after she is kidnapped by eccentric billionaire Abigail Fairfax (Daniel Radcliffe). Loretta is the only living person capable of translating the clues that lead to a hidden treasure, and Abigail forces her to help him find the treasure so he can claim it for himself. Her vapid cover model Alan (Channing Tatum) comes to rescue her, and shortly afterwards her overworked publicist Beth (Da’Vine Joy Randolph) sets out on an adventure of her own to save them both.

The film is a classic fish out of water comedy: its humor comes from putting characters in unfamiliar environments that clash with their personalities. Watching a novelist, a publicist and a model thrust into the centre of a big adventure full of motorcycle chases, gunfire, and an active volcano provides exactly the dose of good fun that is promised in the trailers.

Bullock, Tatum and Randolph are effortlessly funny. They imbue their roles with the mix of quirky relatability and comic character work needed to carry 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 both Brad Pitt and Oscar Nuñez delight with perfectly-executed character roles.

Sandra Bullock with a lantern exploring a cave in The Lost City
Image: Paramount Pictures

The Lost City takes a bit longer than average to find its footing, and its poorly-paced first act may have some audiences concerned about what is to come. Part of this is likely because the film is so dependent on its fish out of water style that it doesn’t quite know what to do when the fish are still comfortably swimming in their ponds. Luckily, the film’s energy and pace 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 certainly a fun time with a lot of laughs, it is missing one major element that similar-yet-stronger films like the reboot of Jumanji (2017), Pirates of the Caribbean (2003), or even this year’s Uncharted (2022) provide: a solid sense of adventure. A good adventure comedy is one that can effectively balance both genres, providing a sufficient amount of humor while still sustaining the sense of mystery, discovery and excitement of classic adventure franchises like Tomb Raider and Indiana Jones.

The Lost City is missing the puzzles, traps, mazes, plot twists, and major mysteries that audiences of this type of film expect. There are a few moments – including a touching revelation about the treasure that the characters seek – that show promise, but the film for the most part misses many opportunities to indulge in the adventure side of the adventure-comedy genre. Similarly, 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 film like Jumanji, for example, is just as funny as The Lost City, but finds a way to combine its humor with a sufficiently engaging plot and enough twists, turns and adventures to satisfy on both ends. For all of its strong humor and big 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 is promise: the film makes some attempts in both of these areas, but clearly needs a bit more work to develop them properly.

One of the film’s biggest failures is its disrespectful misrepresentation of romance novel fans. The film’s uncomfortable beginning tries to derive humor from a contrast between Loretta’s intellectualism and her fans’ complete disinterest in anything but Alan’s abs. As Janice Radway argued years ago in her influential studies on romance readers, they often engage very intellectually and meaningfully with the novels they read, and disdain for their fandom is often rooted in misogyny and classism.

Image: Paramount Pictures

There is a huge opportunity here for Loretta to confront her own biases and recognize the intellectual potential of her fans’ engagement with her novels. Particularly insightful fish out of water stories eventually find ways to show the unexpected ways where seemingly contradictory elements end up having surprising similarities.

The film very briefly attempts to follow up on this potential in a scene where Alan encourages Loretta to be more kind to her fans, but it never fully manages to develop into a more sophisticated reflection on why Loretta’s intellectual interest in ancient history may not be so different from her fans’ interest in her novels. Again, the potential is there, and the film does flirt with it briefly, but there is a lack of follow-through.

In general, a lack of follow-through seems to be The Lost City’s biggest flaw. There is a moment early in the film where Loretta’s unique thought process is displayed visually as she thinks through the logic of her novel’s scenarios. This moment carries a subtle suggestion that the film may be following in the footsteps of Hush (2016) by representing 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. Similarly, Alan’s discussion with Loretta about her treatment of her fans is a promising start to a character journey that’s never quite fully developed or processed.

While The Lost City had the potential to join the ranks of classic adventure comedies like Pirates of the Caribbean or Jumanji, it ultimately settled for being a fun, solid comedy that happens to take place in an adventure setting. That being said, it is fun enough and funny enough to make it worthwhile, and it is still more than worth the time of anyone who enjoys a good laugh and a fun time.

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Written By

Steven Greenwood is a Montreal-based writer & director, and the Artistic Director of Home Theatre Productions. He holds a PhD from McGill University with a focus on queer cultural history, and he teaches university courses in film, theatre, and popular culture. His work is influenced by his passion for queer history & culture, and he is a fan of all things geeky, pulpy, campy & queer. You can find him on Twitter @steven_c_g or on Instagram @steven.c.greenwood.

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