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On March 15, 1985, Albert Brooks unveiled his R-rated, dark road-trip comedy Lost in America in theaters. The Hollywood Reporter’s original review of the Warner Bros. film is below.
Lost in America faces an uphill route to its box-office destination. Former Saturday Night Live filmmaker Albert Brooks’ third feature (after Real Life and Modern Romance) is a wry satire of modern-day social malaise, but the deadpan cerebral humor of this Geffen Co. release through Warner Bros. is likely to leave most audiences waiting for the punch line.
Brooks (who co-authored the script with partner Monica Johnson) and Airplane’s Julie Hagerty play a bored, well-to-do Los Angeles couple who impulsively trade in their Mercedes for a motor home and embark on a journey of self-discovery a la Easy Rider. But their odyssey, which begins with wifey sacrificing the family’s entire nest egg to a Vegas roulette wheel and terminates in a windswept Arizona trailer park, soon comes to more closely resemble an upper-tax-bracket edition of National Lampoon’s Vacation.
The difference — and the problem — is that Brooks’ movie is often too realistic for its own good. His antiseptic visuals, which perfectly convey the characters’ vapid environments, have an almost harrowing believability. Eric Saarinen’s unobtrusive location photography and the casting of unfamiliar faces in supporting roles (including producer Garry Marshall in a convincing cameo as a casino pit boss) further reinforce the picture’s unnerving documentary quality. Too often, things are simply too painfully accurate to be particularly funny.
Still, it’s hard to fault Brooks’ resolutely adult intelligence, and Lost in America — almost in spite of itself, really — is easily his most consistently amusing work to date. The director’s own rather bland screen persona, in most cases a hindrance, here works to particularly identifiable advantage. Indeed the movie’s comic highlights derive from Brooks’ periodic losses of equanimity, outbursts of righteous indignation that demonstrate an uproarious mastery of the slow-burn principle.
Brooks has additionally been well served by a capable crew — cinematographer Saarinen, editor David Finfer, production designer Richard Sawyer, composer Arthur Rubinstein — who lends his efforts considerable polish. The filmmakers’ greatest asset, however, is Hagerty. Discarding her customary winsomeness, she imbues an unattractively written role with a sort of tarnished naivete that is perhaps the happiest find of this Lost in America. — Kirk Ellis, originally published on Feb. 13, 1985
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Jon M. Chu