The Lake House

(2006) ** 1/2 Pg
95 min. Warner Brothers. Director: Alejandro Agresti. Cast: Sandra Bullock, Keanu Reeves, Dylan Walsh, Shohreh Aghdashloo, Christopher Plummer.

In The Lake House, earnestness and charisma go a long way to selling a loony tale of star-crossed love. Adapted by playwright David Auburn (Proof) from the Korean film Il Mare, The Lake House is a high-concept magic-realist romance about a mystical mailbox. There's the loony rub: the mailbox, situated in front of the isolated lake house of the title, marks a time warp of two years. While this could complicate paying bills, it also draws two people into the old-fashioned enchantment of correspondence.

In 2006, Dr. Kate Forster (Sandra Bullock) determines to leave her lake house rental behind for her new job at a Chicago hospital. Before she tools away in her Mustang, she leaves a friendly note to the next tenant. But the note doesn't remain in 2006. It finds its way into the hands of Alex Wyler (Keanu Reeves), an architect restoring the decrepit lake house...in 2004.

More contrivances allow the two to correspond further and sort out that they're living two years apart. Their burgeoning friendship allows each to offer the other what he or she needs. They're fatefully bonded by daddy issues (hers went too soon; his, a famous architect played by Christopher Plummer, is arrogant and remote) and willfully lonely. Kate has recently broken off a serious relationship with a haplessly inattentive guy (Dylan Walsh), and Alex is simultaneously running away from his father's life and toward it, by restoring the house he watched his father build.

"It's kind of a long-distance relationship," Alex says, by way of explanation to his brother. Granted, but one judicious Google search on Kate's part would derail the entire story, wouldn't it? But who ever said romance is rational? The story's machinations do allow the lovers to attempt meetings, though the most important ones occur more by chance than design. Kate and Alex both need to learn to be open to possibility, a theme mirrored by the design and nature of the lake house. Alex's non-functioning girlfriend (Lynn Collins) barks, "Why would you take that house? It's made of glass—there's no privacy!"

Auburn alludes to Crime and Punishment, the film Notorious, and, more pointedly, Jane Austen's Persuasion to comment on the grand Romantic design that overshadows the characters, but the author never strikes deep chords with his own characters: their personal dramas are stillborn (a langorous pace sets a proper mood but hobbles development), making the metaphysical search for connection the dominant and unconvincing narrative force.

Still, the desire for connection and the screen reunion of Reeves and Bullock (paired memorably in Speed) give The Lake House a strong rooting interest. The trappings are properly swoony, from thoughtful gestures across time (like a city tour Alex plans for Kate) to a clever first dance/first kiss (scored to Paul McCartney's "This Never Happened Before") in which one character knows considerably more about the other. Argentinian director Alejandro Agresti (the limpid Valentin) gives the film the requisite mystery and made-for-each-other romance by drifting smoothly between past and present. The Lake House is made of glass, but the view straight through it is rather pleasant all the same.

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