After I walked away from a showing of the lost city, the thought that kept coming back to me was that the film’s protagonists – Sandra Bullock and Channing Tatum – are two of the biggest names in Hollywood who haven’t been in a Marvel movie. I suppose that’s a testament to the superhero genre’s stranglehold on the movie industry. But it also says a lot about Bullock and Tatum’s star power (Tatum was involved in an X-Man movie known as Gambit, but it ended up fizzling) and, reflexively, how rare it is for a movie like The Lost City consists.
Directed by Aaron and Adam Nee, who co-wrote the film with Oren Uziel and Dana Fox, based on a story by Seth Gordon, The Lost City is an action-adventure rom-com that is not based on pre-existing IP (unless you count the Fabio model concept). However, the effects and action sequences of that adventure aren’t quite the draw here – the stars are. The Nees and their film are more concerned with demonstrating the chemistry of Bullock and Tatum, and inverting at least one of the genre’s tropes.
Despite his intimidating physique, Tatum spends much of the film in a wet t-shirt, inflicting little damage on henchmen. Stern and extraordinarily intelligent, Bullock plays an academic novelist who manages to evoke Indiana Jones energy in a purple sequined jumpsuit.
Bullock is his hero, Tatum is the damsel in distress.
That inversion isn’t particularly clever (the stars of the film blurt out the phrase “damsel in distress”) at one point), and doesn’t feel like a breakthrough, as we’ve seen Bullock and Tatum play versions of their characters before — Bullock has already played a hero in waiting in Miss Congeniality and Tatum a sensitive galoot in the 21 Jump Street franchisee. Their dynamics are clear. But thanks to the stars, there are still moments of genuine laughter and cheerfulness in it The Lost City that made me happy it exists – enough to convince me that Bullock and Tatum should be in more mid-budget rom-coms, and that there should be more, not less, similar movies.
The Lost City is at its core a warning to think twice before going after a writer romantically. Loretta Sage (Bullock) is a successful novelist who has come to hate everything around her. She hates her devoted fans who buy her books and let her live a luxurious life of white wine on ice and bathtubs. She hates publicity for her new book, The Lost City of D, although said publicity incites said fans to purchase said book. She hates her devoted publisher and friend Beth (Da’Vine Joy Randolph) for letting her do a promotional tour, and she hates her cover model and promo tour co-headliner Alan (Tatum) because he’s his role in the movie. writing process (not present).
Part of Loretta’s sourness is due to the death of her husband, an adventurous archaeologist about to uncover the ancient civilization and city on which her book is based. We’re given about 10 minutes to assess Loretta’s loss – longing for old photos of her and her husband in archaeologist’s clothing, but also seeing her moan, scold and roll her eyes at the various people trying to make her life easier, to to determine that perhaps she always had a cranky feeling about her and that her husband’s death drove her to this scornful place.
Loretta’s face is so gloomy that when she is kidnapped, you feel even the slightest bit sorry for her captors.
Her captor is a small media scion named Abigail Fairfax (Daniel Radcliffe), who needs her to translate the dead language referenced in her book, take him to the Lost City and the priceless headdress buried in a hidden tomb. If there was a more pleasant or reliable person capable of translating the document Loretta needs to look at, Fairfax assures both her and the public that he would have pursued other, less crazy options.
Despite Sage’s surly demeanor, Beth, Alan, and Beth’s assistant Allison (human highlight Patti Harrison) decide they must get her. While Beth and Allison pursue more tried-and-true methods, i.e. contacting the authorities, Alan contacts a special-ops expert/personal trainer (Brad Pitt, in an extended cameo) he met at a meditation boot camp and goes first to Loretta.
In a split second, Loretta steals Fairfax’s ancient parchment for herself, tucks it into the plunging neckline of her fuchsia jumpsuit, and spends the rest of the film assembling where it leads. She is resourceful and turns the aforementioned jumpsuit into an accomplice-killing booby trap. She uses her experience in the field as an adventurer and archaeologist to navigate the jungle and caves. At one point, she and Alan were seemingly able to go home (and ostensibly end the film), but Loretta’s ambition leads them back to the wilderness and in danger. She doesn’t really ask Alan for his opinion on what to do next.
Meanwhile, Alan’s sole focus is on Loretta. He wants to protect her, but is not very good at it. He doesn’t tell her if she makes him feel small. He affirms her intelligence, without expecting anything in return. At one point in the film, Alan tells Loretta that he understands why she feels the corny novels she writes are beneath her. He too cringed when he was on their covers – until he met her fans. Anything that can bring that kind of joy is nothing to be ashamed of, he tells her.
Other qualities of an action hero girlfriend: Alan is much younger than Loretta, Alan is bad at driving, Alan is equally bad at swimming, Alan is allergic to water, Alan is an optimist. Alan is not good at punches and can only punch, and Alan also has the only nude scene in the film.
Tatum has the muscular, chiseled, shaggy (but soft on the lips and eyes) look phenotypical of a Marvel superhero, but it’s impossible to say he’s playing against the type. Tatum has played this confident, soft himbo role before in movies (and especially sequels) like 21 Jump Street and 22 Jump Street, and gave us flashes in magic Mike† Magic Mike XXL, and Kingsman: a golden circle† There is no man in Hollywood who looks as good as Tatum who is better at playing a sensitive himbo, and in this case the romantic accessory at Bullocks Loretta Sage.
Linking Tatum to Bullock, who played Annie Porter in Speed, one of the most famous action hero girlfriends in the action hero girlfriend pantheon, is an inversion of meta roles that the film loves and leans towards. The conceit works by knowing who these actors are and who they’ve played, and picking up nods to their past work, as well as tropes of action-adventure movies from the past.
The dynamism and nostalgia are effective, but I would like The Lost City would make us think a little more.
Channing Tatum is so good at deviating from being sexy, rambunctious Channing Tatum that he should be, that the shock of surprise is not there. Sweet, rather mushy Channing Tatum has become the go-to Channing Tatum of the silver screen. Similarly, a human charm offensive if there ever was one, Bullock gives us a variation of her earlier appearances as gruff cop Gracie Hart. Miss Congeniality and rigid cop Sarah Ashburn from The heat. Like Tatum, the character is in Bullock’s wheelhouse, but the material here doesn’t really push her or her opponent into new places.
That said, while The Lost City It’s definitely not perfect, I hope it goes well. It’s the right movie for a plane trip, or something I’d put on if I don’t feel like it Spy, the best action-rom-com of all time. But because of the way studios track cash registers, The Lost City and the reported budget of about $70 million represents a trial balloon of sorts. Should it not reach the desired numbers, those executives will see it as confirmation that mid-budget rom-coms and their ilk aren’t worth investing in the way superhero movies, reboots and sequels to established hits are.
I hate that!
Pinning all the hopes and dreams of the romantic comedy genre and mid-budget films in general (even other unsung genres, e.g. erotic thrillers) on Tatum’s broad shoulders and Bullock’s sequined jumpsuit is unfair. Tatum’s lats and Bullock’s superpower to defy the rules of human aging must be judged on their own terms. Both go further than necessary. hopefully The Lost City does a good enough job of keeping the money-driven, film-making decision-makers at bay so we can see more similar movies — or maybe a sequel that’s even better.