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The Lake House

Keanu and Sandra, Together Again

The Lake House, a remake of a little-known South Korean film, Siworae (released here as Il Mare), reunites Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock in a romantic/fantasy drama twelve years after their star-making turns in Speed. While Reeves and Bullock played a romantic couple in that film, the romantic angle was relegated to a subplot. Still, Reeves and Bullock clicked together onscreen, so it's not surprising they were asked to appear in a romantic drama together. What is surprising is that it took twelve years for them to work together again. And before you ask, Reeves gives one of the better, more credible performances of his career (yes, this was as difficult to write as it is to read).

Kate Forster (Sandra Bullock), a doctor about to complete a sabbatical at a lake house before taking a position at a large Chicago hospital, leaves a letter as a courtesy for the next tenant, Alex Burnham (Keanu Reeves), a former architect turned condo developer who's purchased the lake house as a renovation project (and for personal reasons that become clear later on). In her letter, she apologizes for paw prints on the jetty that connects the lake house to the land and a box in the dusty attic. Alex investigates and doesn't find either one.

Perplexed, Alex responds to Kate. In turn, Kate notes that Alex can't get his years straight. His letters are dated '04, hers are dated '06. The mailbox at the lake house has magical properties, serving as a conduit between 2004 and 2006. Alex's present is Kate's past, and Kate's present is Alex's future. Alex's doubts that Kate's putting him on are quickly allayed once Kate predicts a freak weather storm (why Kate believes Alex is writing from the past as easily as she does is left unanswered). Alex and Kate also discover they share the same dog, Jack (actually a she).

Before Alex and Kate can meet (if in fact, they do), they have other obstacles to overcome. Alex has to reconcile with his estranged father, Louis Burnham (Christopher Plummer), a brilliant yet difficult architect, and convince his younger brother, Henry (Ebon Moss-Bachrach), another architect in a family of architects, to start his own firm. Kate has to cope with the long hours at the hospital and a persistent ex-lover, Morgan (Dylan Walsh), a lawyer who promises Kate a bland, comfortable life together and not much else. Alex and Kate also have to uncover whatever hidden connections that might have shared in their joint pasts that's brought them together again, albeit two years apart.

Asking Keanu Reeves to hold up his end in a drama-heavy, non-action film has been always a dicey proposition (he's better suited to monosyllabic action roles, comedic turns where he plays off his stoned surfer persona, or smaller character parts where the onus of carrying a scene or a film is on another actor), but for once, casting Reeves as the lead in a romantic drama somehow pays off, mostly because Reeves avoids the awkward, stiff line readings that have made him an object of derision among critics and moviegoers.

Reeves’ performance aside, The Lake House manages to work for several reasons, beginning with Sandra Bullock as the co-lead, a solid supporting cast featuring the always watchable Christopher Plummer as Alex’s father, a grounded screenplay that (mostly) avoids cheap sentimentality, and straightforward, unobtrusive direction by Argentinean director Alejandro Agresti (Valentin), making his English-language filmmaking debut. Agresti keeps his camera focused on the actors and eliciting grounded performances, keeping stylistic tricks to a minimum, with the exception of several unnecessary overhead crane shots that add nothing dramatically.

Story wise, The Lake House indulges in a handful of genre clichés (e.g., the unsuitable current lover, the “perfect” romantic partner and soul mater, finding your soul mate via idealized means). It’s also convoluted and illogical (the whole time paradox thing comes into play, with both Kate and Alex influencing past and future events), but that won't stop moviegoers from rooting for Alex and Kate to make a go of it. As Alex and Kate move toward meeting each other in the present or permanent separation, tear ducts will be primed and ready, whatever direction the film goes. The Lake House may be a modest, conventional romantic fable, but when it delivers a cathartic moment or two before the end credits roll, it accomplishes exactly what the filmmakers hoped it would.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars