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`Lake House' is a love story that's all about location

The time-warp plot of this cutesy romance hinges on a gorgeous house, and so does most of the film's appeal.

June 16, 2006|Carina Chocano | Times Staff Writer

Well, lordy, if I found a lake house that looked like that, I'd make a movie about it, too. In the paranormal romance "The Lake House," Sandra Bullock and Keanu Reeves are brought together and gently coaxed into love by their shared tenancy -- two years apart -- of a jewel-like waterfront property, a lyrical glass-and-iron Art Nouveau bird-cage/terrarium on stilts. The trouble: They seem to have snagged themselves on some kind of nasty wrinkle in the time-space continuum. He's living in 2004, and she's living in 2006, simultaneously. How's that for a romantic obstacle, John Grey fans?

In 2006, a young doctor named Kate (Bullock) finishes her residency in a small North Shore hospital and moves to Chicago to begin a job at a hospital in the city, reluctantly leaving behind the lake house she's been renting. On moving out, she leaves a note in the mailbox apologizing for the painted paw prints in the entrance, and asking the new tenant to forward her mail to her new address. Already mopey, she witnesses a man get hit by a bus on one of her first days off.

Meanwhile, back at the lake house, the new tenant is moving in. He is Alex Wyler (Reeves), an architect and condo developer, whose distant and imperious father (you know how those legendary architects are), William Wyler (Christopher Plummer), built the house for his wife long ago. Alex has been around the world trying to forget -- or forgive -- his dad for being such a Frank Lloyd Wright groupie and all-around pill. Now he's come home to build ugly housing for the condo-crazed masses, and to make the lake house a little more user-friendly.

When he finds the letter from Kate, Alex is befuddled. He knows for a fact that the lake house has been empty for years, and there are no paw prints anywhere. The next morning, however, a cute stray dog appears out of nowhere, tracking paint in the entranceway. How could Kate have known about the dog? He writes back, and displaying a charming but fortuitous ignorance of the workings of the U.S. postal system, sticks the letter in the lake house's mail box. Kate returns and finds it, and they begin a lively, time-warping correspondence, bickering about what year it is.

They never do get around to discussing what's happening, or how it happened, whether NASA should be alerted, or what it means. But why bother? They sound cute! Instead, Alex and Kate do what by now millions of clients worldwide could tell them not to do: They start falling madly in love based on cutely worded getting-to-know you notes. (A sample: "I'm a doctor, trying to cure the sick." "I'm an architect. I like to build.") They swap turn-ons and turn-offs. (Turn-on: "When I smell the flowers before I see them.") And they pine. They also exchange reminiscences, which, when they happen to be Kate's, allow Alex to try to track her down to her past.

A brief aside: I'm starting to formulate a theory about Keanu Reeves. I think he is the Al Gore of the acting world. He's thoroughly unobjectionable. He seems like a very solid guy. You want to like him, even. But he's, how do you say, wooden. A little on the stiff side. Alex does succeed in tracking Kate down in 2004, on her birthday, when he gets himself invited to a party thrown by her then boyfriend, Morgan (Dylan Walsh). They share a moment at the party -- but Alex is just sane enough to refrain from spilling the beans about their future relationship. Sadly, he doesn't choose to pursue the relationship in his present, either, even though Kate is clearly open to new experiences. Then again, he's a simple guy. He likes to build.

Directed by Alejandro Agresti ("Valentin") and written by David Auburn ("Proof"), "The Lake House" is a chronological brain-teaser confounding enough to keep you busy trying to figure out whether those holes are in the story or in your logic. But ultimately the movie is more interested in the love part of the equation than in the whole crazy, madcap physics part, so it's never really explained how Alex is supposed to catch up to Kate, how it was that they were once on the same plane but got separated, or how it is, with so many naturally occurring obstacles to love existing in the real world, anyone thought this would make a good premise.

Twice in the course of the film, a character watches bits of "Notorious" on TV, which seems odd -- like someone dug up the wrong Cary Grant movie. The more appropriate reference would have been Grant and Deborah Kerr's "An Affair to Remember," a weepy in which the lovers are kept apart by contrived but hardly idiotic circumstances.

"The Lake House" shares several key characteristics with that movie, not to mention a couple of scenes. Except for the part where it's revealed that Cary Grant is actually an alien from outer space, and Deborah Kerr knows it's crazy but loves him anyway, they actually have quite a lot in common.

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