In 2010 Sandra Bullock won the Golden Raspberry for worst actress following her appearance as a farcical stalker in All About Steve. She was actually one of the few Hollywood celebrities to turn up to collect her award in person, a noble-minded but humbling act that no doubt had the sharp edge taken off it the following night when she got her Oscar for The Blind Side. This duality has defined her career, not the contrast of good and bad but the mix of high drama and broad comedies. In 2013 she gave, by my mind, her greatest performance in Gravity where she was stuck in space, only months after we’d seen her stuck in Spanx in The Heat, and in 2000 she went into rehab in 28 Days and under cover in Miss Congeniality (probably her second greatest performance).
Now she has followed her last film, The Unforgivable, where she played a newly released repentant cop killer with The Lost City – a comedy adventure about a recently kidnapped reluctant romance writer. (The title tells you everything else you need to know about the plot.) There are many actors who have switched between serious and funny films like this but few, even if her catalogue is not filled with constant hits, as adroitly as Sandra Bullock.
Interestingly The Lost City seems to combine all her skills as while it is a light movie with no real sense of peril or suspense, Bullock’s Loretta is grieving the loss of a husband and she manages to make you feel this throughout. It’s a surprisingly touching portrayal of a character like this in a film which is essentially a replay of the Dora the Explorer movie with slightly more sophisticated jokes. She does make being resignedly stuck in a chair effortlessly funny like no one else but she is essentially the straight woman here.
Playing opposite her and bringing most of the laughs is Channing Tatum. I know Tatum has done his own mix of sensible and silly movies but with nowhere near the success of Bullock. He’s great in Foxcatcher but he’s never really stood out in anything else for me. Magic Mike played to all his skills but I didn’t love it and I never really got on with 21 Jump Street. He is showing greater comedy chops here than he has in anything before though and he does so by essentially playing against type. He is demonstrably not the typical Hollywood cool guy here, this is actually his whole characterisation, and he does it really well. The plot is heavily reminiscent of Romancing the Stone (a film that is not as good as you remember) only in this version Michael Douglas is as inept as Kathleen Turner.
Using Romancing the Stone as a comparison highlights another thing that is uncommon about this film. Douglas was 40 in that movie and Turner was 30. That’s not a big age gap by Hollywood standards but it is typically gender weighted. Here Tatum is 42 to Bullock’s 57. This isn’t strange for Bullock either though; other than Two Weeks Notice, While You Were Sleeping and Demolition Man I’m not sure she’s ever been younger than the man she has played against (she’s got two months on Keanu Reeves). It’s also been a while since it’s not been her name headlining. Seriously, this woman and her career are not celebrated as much as they should be, she’s an example to all. It is amusing to hear in interviews how co-star Daniel Radcliffe, despite having appeared alongside the great and the good of the British acting fraternity in Harry Potter, has never been more starstruck but I get why.
All of this said, it won’t surprise you to read that The Lost City is quite the feminist piece. Again, let’s not overstate this; it’s no Tomb Raider (although there is some tomb raiding) but even though the story is all about saving a kidnapped woman she is not constantly the damsel in distress. The script may be a little heavy handed in how it handles this, literally having Tatum say ‘Wait, I’m the damsel in distress?’ at one point, but it is nice to see. Of the two leads Bullock is not the one being objectified either. She drives the plot more than him and neither have a typically masculine skill set.
In terms of the bigger picture then, there is much to applaud here. Taken purely on its own merits The Lost City is perhaps not quite the sum of its parts but actually it is an amiably amusing adventure film. Is it one you should rush to see at the cinema? Probably not but will it give you a fun night out at the movies? Absolutely. It will make you laugh and it doesn’t always quite go where you think it will, in fact there’s one particular through line concerning the henchmen that ticks both these boxes.
Bullock won’t be winning Razzies or Oscars for this one but I had fun with it and, as I hope I’ve shown, there’s treasure here if you dig for it.