The mix-CDs they sell at Starbucks are full of familiar old tunes: mostly predictable picks packaged together in a classy, tasteful and utterly unchallenging way. The new romantic fantasy The Lake House is a lot like one of those CDs it takes two attractive stars who have been paired together before, plops them down in the middle of a sexless, inoffensive story about lovers separated by time, and wraps it all up in a gorgeous, gauzy visual scheme. If you're not in the mood to be spoon-fed clichés like fate and destiny, you'll hate it. But if you're looking for a pleasant, modest chick flick that will no doubt go into heavy rotation on the Oxygen Network, then it might be worth a matinee.
Here, Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock reunite more than a decade after Speed made both their careers. Reeves plays Alex, a condo developer still bearing the burden of his architect father's unrealized hopes; Bullock is Kate, an overworked first-year doctor still getting over a failed relationship with a humorless businessman (Dylan Walsh). They're both connected by the steel-and-glass house of the film's title, located on a lake outside of Chicago. She's moving out of it; he's moving in. She leaves a helpful note for the next resident, which he receives two years before she wrote it.
Thus begins a game of metaphysical pen pal. In the here-and-now, Kate drives out to the now-abandoned lake house and leaves a letter in the box, which Alex reads and responds to in 2004. Without questioning the magical mailbox or the mysteriously empty house too much, they become giddy on the thrill of an impossible romance. They trade stories of personal traumas, past relationships, parents and their love of walks in the park on rainy days all the usual match.com stuff, but with a slight time warp. When Kate drops a few details about where she was in 2004, Alex seeks her out, even though she won't have a clue as to who he is. And then a funny thing happens: The Lake House starts to get interesting.
The script, by playwright David Auburn (Proof), doesn't bother to explain all the little details skeptics might be asking, like why our heroes don't just pick up the phone and call each other, or why Kate's present life isn't radically affected by the things Alex is doing in the past. The fantasy doesn't hold water when subjected to any sort of analysis, but the actors and director go a long way in selling you on the material. Bullock and Reeves will never be mistaken for Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman who are referenced repeatedly during the film but they have a sweet, "golly-gee" kind of courtship, and they look good together. Making his Hollywood debut, the Argentine director Alejandro Agresti bathes the film in a dreamy amber light, and highlights the changing seasons by shooting the two stars through all sorts of snow, rain and foliage. Best of all, the woozy romance plays out against a sound track full of '70s gems by Carole King, Nick Drake and Paul McCartney. Come to think of it, it would make for an awesome Starbucks mix.
Michael Hastings writes about film for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected].