An original comedy film is nearly impossible to make nowadays. Add in a target audience of adults and an exclusively theatrical release, and you’re looking at a pool of movies that includes Free Guy and almost nothing else. The new romantic adventure comedy The Lost City tries — and oftentimes succeeds — at rectifying this situation.
Sandra Bullock stars as Loretta Sage, a romance novelist who has lost her spark after the death of her archaeologist husband. Loretta is an archetypal Bullock character: smart, quick, and uncomfortable in a fancy get-up. Her cover model, Alan (Channing Tatum), has become famous in his own right as Dash, the long-haired love interest in all of Loretta’s books. He is a true himbo, and women love him for it. When he shows up at a stop on her book tour at the cheekily named “Romancing the Page” convention, he becomes the center of attention before an annoyed Loretta tells a crowd of horny women that she will be killing him off in the next book.
Loretta is brainy, hot, and doesn’t care for Alan. Alan is dumb, hot, and has a fondness for Loretta. So how do we get these two polar opposites (by movie logic) to fall in love? Well, one of them must get kidnapped.
Loretta is taken from the convention by billionaire scion Abigail Fairfax (Daniel Radcliffe) who is convinced that, because she wrote about it in her latest book, Loretta is the only person who can help him find the Crown of Fire, a diamond headdress worn by an ancient queen. Assisted by Loretta’s book agent Beth (Da’Vine Joy Randolph), Alan calls in a favor from a trainer he knows named Jack Trainer (a very game Brad Pitt) and the two set off to the middle of the Atlantic to save Loretta.
It’s easy to compare The Lost City to Romancing the Stone, Robert Zemeckis’s 1984 classic in which a romance writer also goes to a foreign land to fall in love with a hunky guy who helps her both save and seize the day. But the movie shines in its mild subversion of that story. Channing Tatum is not Michael Douglas or Harrison Ford — those guys always know what to do in a hostage situation and, more importantly, would never show their whole ass covered in leeches. At one point Alan rather pointedly asks, “Am I the damsel in distress?” Yes you are, baby, and it’s working.
As a romantic comedy, The Lost City falters. Tatum and Bullock have incredible comedic chemistry but not much in the way of crackling sexual tension. When they finally share a kiss at the end of their adventure, it feels a bit perfunctory. You want more scenes like the one where they try to squeeze into a tiny hammock and fewer of them gazing into each other’s eyes while realizing that love is possible — thankfully the movie knows that.
Directed by brothers Adam and Aaron Nee, this is the kind of film that, in another time, would thrive in basic cable reruns. You don’t really have to know the specifics of the plot to have fun while watching it, and if you were to tune in for 30 minutes while folding laundry there would be at least a few moments that made you laugh. You might even laugh heartily, as I did for almost all of Patti Harrison’s lines as Beth’s off-kilter assistant Alison. Everyone, particularly Radcliffe, is clearly having a blast, and that kind of energy makes a two-hour movie fly by.
The Lost City is probably not going to save the studio comedy, but it might keep it on life support for at least a few more years. In a landscape where the top-grossing comedy of last year features Ryan Reynolds wielding both a lightsaber and Captain America’s shield, we should savor whatever scraps we can get — especially when they go down easy.