An American remake of the 2000 South Korean film, "Il Mare," "The Lake House" has two sizable problems that keep it from ever casting the intended romantic spell over the viewer: a mishandling of a complicated plot that involves time travel, and only marginal chemistry between its central star-crossed lovebirds. The former issue becomes ever more convoluted and riddled with story holes the longer it goes on, while the latter falters because the characters never form a deep enough connection to warrant their belief that they might be soul mates.
When Chicago doctor Kate Forster (Sandra Bullock) moves out of a secluded country lake house and into the city, she leaves behind a note requesting that the future tenant forward her mail to her. Stopping by the house a couple days later, she finds a letter in the mailbox addressed to her from architect Alex Wyler (Keanu Reeves). He claims to have moved into the house, but there's one mystical hitch: he is living in the year 2004, while she is living in 2006. This fantastic and unexplainable occurrence is hard to believe, but as these two lonely, overworked singletons continue writing each other, proof that Alex is telling the truth becomes impossible to deny. Soon Kate and Alex have fallen in love"It's kind of a long-distance relationship," Kate tells her doctor friend Anna Klyczynski (Shohreh Aghdashloo)but there is no promising that they will ever be able to meet in the future when one of them is two whole years behind the other.
No doubt about it, stories dealing in time travel and different planes of existence are fascinating. They are also so complex that it's difficult to wrap one's mind aroundfor proof, look no further than the 2004 brainteaser "Primer
"so the source material demands to be tightly written and as close to airtight as possible to work. "The Lake House" is not, and doesn't. It can be overlooked that there is no explanation ever given for why this particular mail box is a gateway to a different time period; the movie is a fantasy, after all, and so the basic premise can easily be accepted at face value. Where screenwriter David Auburn (2005's "Proof
") and director Alejandro Agresti go wrong is in the messy and ultimately irresponsible ways in which they allow Kate and Alex to skewer the entire world's time continuum without ever taking into account just how catastrophic the outcome could be for life as everyone knows it.
When Alex decides to plant a tree in front of Kate's future apartment buildingshe misses the trees that surrounded the lake houseits sudden appearance in Kate's world could very well cause some head-turning by the property owners. That is extremely minor, however, when compared to the lengths they go in the picture's second half to try and meet each other. When they finally do come in contact in Alex's 2004, Kate doesn't yet know him. Once they do see each other, however, it should cause the 2006 Kate's past memories to be rearranged and rewritten. Sometimes it does, and sometimes it doesn't seem to, depending on its convenience in relation to the plot. Also confused is Kate's and Alex's correspondence, which is often carried out over conversational narration rather than letters. At other times, they actually speak out loud and can hear each other.
The most unforgivable misstep arrives in the climax, which hinges on a flimsy twist embarrassingly obvious from the moment a key scene plays out in the first act. The ways in which Kate goes about trying to change fate without giving a second's thought about the enormous and possibly negative ramifications it could have on the future feels not only selfish, but also grossly miscalculated. It also puts an irreversible damper on the final scene, which is supposed to be sweeping and romantic, but instead takes on an uncomfortable and creepy undercurrent. If Kate and Alex truly believed they were meant for each other, why couldn't Kate simply research Alex's present-day whereabouts? In an age of advanced technology, it couldn't be difficult at all and would have solved all their problems without tampering with the rest of the world's natural order.
For the first time in twelve years, Sandra Bullock (2005's "Crash
") and Keanu Reeves (2005's "Constantine
") reunite on the big screen, albeit briefly, but they only have roughly half the charisma together as they did in 1994's "Speed." Bullock gives Kate a quiet sadness as she feels like something is missing in her hectic lifestyle, while Reeves, as Alex, mediates between stoic bordering on wooden facial expressions and better-played emotional sequences where he comes to terms with the strained relationship he has with his difficult professor father (Christopher Plummer).
In regard to the secondary roles, they are generally too underwritten to lend much support. Dylan Walsh (2002's "We Were Soldiers
") is a bore as Morgan, Kate's on-again-off-again boyfriend, so it's clear from the start that they aren't meant to be together. As Kate's confidant Anna, Shohreh Aghdashloo (2006's "American Dreamz
") makes a fleeting imprint on a thankless role. Other characters, such as Kate's mother and a flighty gal Alex works with, only get in the way and could have been entirely snipped out of the proceedings without any bearing on the outcome.
"The Lake House" has so many rips in its design that this review only scratches the surface of how flawed the time travel setup is. Putting these aside, the film does offer a certain interest, and at least has a little more going on than the typical boy-meets-girl love story. The sleek and attractive cinematography by Alar Kivilo (2005's "The Ice Harvest
") lends a moody atmosphere to its chilly Chicago setting, and the song choices, from Carole King's "It's Too Late" to Nick Drake's haunting "Pink Moon," are faultlessly incorporated. Alas, the sudsy romance at the movie's center never takes off, and whether Sandra Bullock and Keanu Reeves are speaking to each other across time or face-to-face, their collective sparks are muted. So what if these two people have discovered a portal between time periods? The real question is, what do they see in each other in the first place that makes them believe they have found the one they want to spend the rest of their life with? By the end, the viewer is still left wondering.