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With: Keanu Reeves, Sandra Bullock, Christopher Plummer, Shohreh Aghdashloo, Dylan Walsh, Ebon Moss-Bachrach, Willeke van Ammelrooy, Lynn Collins
Written by: David Auburn, based on the Korean film Siworae (a.k.a. Il Mare) by Kim Eun-Jeong, Yeo Ji-na
Directed by: Alejandro Agresti
MPAA Rating: PG for some language and a disturbing image
Running Time: 98
Date: 06/16/2006
IMDB

The Lake House (2006)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Special Delivery

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

For the second time this summer, our romantic movies have forgotten the comedy part. Frankly, it's a rather refreshing trend. The Break Up turned out to be a startlingly bleak look at the underbelly of a typical romantic comedy, complete with terrific sparring scenes.

And now we have The Lake House, a story in which the two lovers are kept apart for the duration of the film, but not by a stupid misunderstanding or a series of lies or personality defects.

A remake of a 2000 Korean film (alternately known as Il Mare and Siworae), The Lake House begins when Kate (Sandra Bullock) moves out of a beautiful -- if slightly impractical -- all-glass house built on stilts at the edge of a lake. She leaves a forwarding address for the next tenant.

In her note she apologizes for the paw prints on the walkway; they were there when she moved in. But the paw prints don't appear until Alex (Keanu Reeves) decides to spruce up the place and a stray mutt tracks through his paint.

That's weird, but things get weirder. After writing back and forth, leaving notes in the lake house's mailbox and flipping up the red flag, the couple realizes that they are separated in time by two years. Alex is living in 2004 and Kate, in 2006.

Though a tasteless director could have crafted this into a kind of comedy (picture something like last summer's Bewitched), Alejandro Agresti (Valentin) instead turns in the kind of desperately dreamy brew that Douglas Sirk used to specialize in. Using a light, airy foundation gently sprinkled with delicate songs (Nick Drake turns up twice), Agresti coaxes quiet, passionate performances from both players. In one of their few scenes together, he lets Bullock and Reeves talk together in real time in an extended two-shot; it's not a technical show-off, but rather an appreciation of the powerful chemistry at work here.

Together again after their highly successful turn in Speed 12 summers ago, Reeves and Bullock, are both at the top of their game. Bullock came a breath away from a potential Oscar nomination for her heartbreaking performance in last year's Crash, while Reeves has spent the decade refining his wooden "whoa dude" persona into a newly comfortable, commanding presence.

Additionally, Christopher Plummer and Shohreh Aghdashloo turn in a matched pair of delicious, quirky supporting performances, far more fleshed out than the usual romance movie fluff. Plummer plays Alex's distant, egotistical father, a celebrated architect with little time or understanding for Alex or his brother (Ebon Moss-Bachrach), while Aghdashloo plays a wise, smoky-voiced doctor in a crowded hospital; Kate has just begun working there, which explains why she wasn't in Chicago in 2004.

But there's trouble in paradise; sci-fi buffs who don't necessarily go in for gooey romance can easily poke holes in the film's time-travel logic. The big question is simply: why doesn't Alex merely wait two years and drop in on Kate? The Lake House comes up with certain half-considered excuses, mainly that Kate prefers the safety of the distance rather than an actual meat-and-potatoes relationship. But it's a problem, nonetheless. (A much smaller problem is this: what if the postman accidentally picks up a note before it can make its time-trip?)

Thankfully Agresti doesn't show much interest in such things. He has effectively skirted around hard logic with his velvety presentation.

Twice during the new film The Lake House, characters watch Alfred Hitchcock's Notorious (1946) on television, specifically the famous "kissing" scene. Unable to shoot a long kiss for more than a few seconds, Hitchcock skirted censors by showing dozens of little kisses between Ingrid Bergman and Cary Grant. His camera floats around their nuzzling faces, close enough to almost feel their breath, and captures one of the steamiest scenes of the 1940s.

It's not for nothing that director Agresti (Valentin) chose this scene. In Notorious, the chemistry between the two heroes counts above all; even if the plot doesn't always make sense, the emotional energy still grips.

Likewise, Jane Austen's Persuasion enters into the mix. Characters discuss the ways in which both books and the stories within them can transcend time. (One copy of Persuasion quite literally makes a trip through time.)

If that's not enough, the film also luxuriates in beautiful Chicago architecture, not just the lake house itself, but also the way the air, light and building materials can make or break a building's personality.

This is clearly the work of a filmmaker with a sensitive palate, which is a rare and welcome thing. In this vein, he has hired Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright David Auburn (Proof) for dialogue purposes and cinematographer Alar Kivilo (A Simple Plan) to revel in the film's many air-and-steel backdrops.

Sure, The Lake House may not be a great time travel movie, but like Notorious it just may be worth remembering for other things.

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