‘The Lost City’ is a comical escape

“The Lost City,” directed by Adam Nee and Aaron Nee, is incredibly campy. That over-the-top nature is what makes the film so entertaining, as it offers lighthearted fun while maintaining a clear and cohesive narrative arc.

The film stars Sandra Bullock as Loretta Sage, a romance novelist who’s withdrawn from society after the death of her husband. Loretta’s publicist Beth (Da’Vine Joy Randolph) organizes a book tour to promote Loretta’s romance adventure novels. At one of the events, Loretta effectively kills her career by declaring that she intends to have Dash, the male hero of her beloved novels, die.

Shortly after the event, Loretta is kidnapped by Abigail Fairfax (Daniel Radcliffe), a villainous billionaire who seeks her help to find a lost island city that she previously researched with her late husband. Loretta’s taken to the jungle, and Alan, the cover model of Loretta’s romance novels who secretly has a crush on her, ventures to the jungle to help save her. He wants to prove that he’s more than the superficial, unintelligent cover model she sees him as. The two end up on a chaotic journey to find the lost city — Loretta’s longtime dream — and find a way to go home. 

While certainly comedic, the movie’s main concern is blurring the lines between fantasy and reality. The protagonist being a romance author lends “The Lost City” a wonderful meta quality, where Loretta finds herself embroiled in an adventure worthy of her own novels. It’s an exciting adventure in the jungle, one of great heights and great sights.

The real stunners of the film, though, are Bullock and Tatum, who elevate their characters compellingly and make them more complex than comedic. What could have been a simple parody of romance novels turns into a serious critique of why they’re so shunned despite their value.

Of course, one can’t ignore the more delightful moments of humor too. One memorable part is when Alan has to convince Loretta that he’s more than just her romance novel cover model and that she shouldn’t “judge a book by its cover.” The dialogue is witty and fast, managing to convey the deep internal feelings and personality of each character while making the audience laugh. It could be exhausting trying to send a grandiose message about looking deeper below the surface, but somehow Bullock and Tatum manage to pull it all off with stunning comedic charm and timing.

It also helps that, as a romantic comedy, the film leans into popular tropes of the genre — having to share a hammock together and the awkward tension that ensues being one of them — but also realizes that there’s a reason why audiences are so drawn to such tropes. Sure, the filmmakers poke fun at those tropes a bit. “The Lost City” is full of cringe-worthy smolders and, at one point, an exaggerated enactment of a romance novel’s writing style. 

Yet within the film lies some authentically sweet moments, such as a dance between Loretta and Alan or when Alan tells Loretta not to dismiss her novels as frivolous junk when there are people who appreciate them. The latter is a surprising moment in a film centered around the seeming silliness of romance stories. Somehow, that gives “The Lost City” more nuance, as if the filmmakers are reminding the audience that there’s a reason for seeing this movie.

It has to be said that “The Lost City” is a self-referential work, which means that it’s both aware of its romantic appeal and reliving what makes romance so appealing in the first place. The heroes — Loretta and Alan — have to fight off physical obstacles in the jungle that prevent them from getting together and emotional obstacles. 

There’s also some well-developed character development that occurs for the two. Loretta learns to emotionally process her grief for her husband and to enjoy the rest of what life might have in store. Alan conveys to Loretta that, although he’s not the fictional hero of her novels, he can be heroic in his own unexpected way.

Like what could be said of all films, it’s not flawless: Parts of the external conflict with Fairfax feels contrived just to add more action, and a few of the scenes between Loretta and Alan seem redundant. However, those aspects are easily overlooked in considering the story’s depth.  

Maybe what makes “The Lost City” work so well is its ability to engage what audiences want while questioning those constructs. It’s about uncovering the stories that might be lost, but also, cheesily enough, finding the strength to tell your own.

Rating: 4/5