FILM REVIEW: THE LAKE HOUSE
By Michael Phillips
Chicago Tribune Movie Critic
Acting inside a matrix or on Earth as we know it, Keanu Reeves often appears to exist in two places along the time-space continuum simultaneously, one sincerely "in the moment," the other a little behind the beat. He comes with his own delay mechanism.
On paper, "The Lake House," a frustrating remake of the South Korean romantic fantasy "Il Mare," would appear to suit this actor well. His character, a Chicago architect with father issues, becomes involved with an emotionally isolated doctor played by Sandra Bullock. The hitch: She's living in 2006, while he goes about his lonely life in 2004. It's "Somewhere in Time" minus 68 of that film's 70-year time gap - a date movie for workaholics running, chronically, two years behind schedule.
The best screen fantasies establish a world where anything, though not everything, can happen. The rules of storytelling engagement draw you in with more mystery than mystification. "The Lake House" has some of the former and too much of the latter. I spent much of the first half of director Alejandro Agresti's film experiencing what I thought were a series of small strokes trying to track the two-track action, followed by a sensation in the second half of getting way, way out ahead of the plotting.
Like "Il Mare," "The Lake House" begins with the female lead - Bullock's Kate Forester - moving out of her groovy lakeside home, on stilts, and slipping a note inside the mailbox addressed to the next occupant. Reeves' Alex, who lives in the shadow cast by his famous architect father (Christopher Plummer), is apparently the occupant in question. Yet she dates her letters from the present, while he writes to her from 2004. They communicate only through their magical mystery mailbox. "It's a long-distance relationship," Dr. Kate tells her colleague, played by "House of Sand and Fog" star Shohreh Aghdashloo, whose languorous delivery comes from its own special time zone.
This is a project whose elements, from concept to script to casting, refuse to follow the usual formulas, which is good, yet they never quite cohere. Screenwriter David Auburn, author of the play "Proof" and a Chicago native, has Chicago-ized the story through and through. Since his decade-old play "Skyscraper," Auburn has devoted his narrative imagination to our fair city and its architectural lore. The father character, greatly expanded from the original, is a variation on the distracted mathematics genius from "Proof." Auburn has not, however, done enough to seduce audiences into this trippy premise.
Together again (in a two-years-apart way) for the first time since "Speed," Reeves and Bullock work hard to instill feeling into a pair of recessive characters. Yet it's hard to buy into a couple who believe in the fantastical events so readily. In "Il Mare" the divided lovers were much younger: She was a voice-over actress who helped out in a comic book store, playing into the air of fantasy, while he spent his construction site days working on a massive bridge - a handy metaphor for the metaphysical divide separating the soul mates. "Il Mare" wasn't great filmmaking or even great romantic schlock, but it worked. "The Lake House," like "The Break-Up," may be in love with all things Chicago, and it's a little different, and it almost works - but in romance as well as the movies, "almost" is a bittersweet word.
"The Lake House"
Directed by Alejandro Agresti; screenplay by David Auburn, based on the Korean film "Il Mare"; cinematography by Alar Kivilo; edited by Lynzee Klingman; production design by Nathan Crowley; music by Rachel Portman; produced by Doug Davison and Roy Lee. A Warner Bros. Pictures release; opens Friday, June 16. Running time: 1:48. MPAA rating: PG (some language and a disturbing image).
Alex Wyler - Keanu Reeves
Kate Forester - Sandra Bullock
Morgan - Dylan Walsh
Anna Klyczynski - Shohreh Aghdashloo
Simon Wyler - Christopher Plummer