Lake House, The: Supernatural Romantic Melodrama, Reteaming Sandra Bullock and Keanu Reeves

A supernatural romantic melodrama in the vein of “Ghost,” but not as trashily enjoyable or sexily charming, The Lake House reteams stars Sandra Bullock and Keanu Reeves for the first time since the smash hit “Speed, the 1994 movie that put both actors on the map.

Making his English-speaking debut, Argentinean Alejandro Agresti directs the film, which was scripted by playwright David Auburn (“Proof”) in an art film style, with careful attention to mise-en-scene and occasionally elegant framing, but also with the kind of pacing that most American viewers will find deliberate and lethargic.

The mystery of this Warner remake of the Korean film “Il Mare” (not a particularly good movie either) is its release date. The movie, which should attract female viewers, both young and middl-eaged, Bullock and Reeves’ main fan base, should have opened on Valentine’s Day or Christmas. Perhaps the idea was for “The Lake House” to serve as counter-programming to summer’s top guns and special effects movies. In the past, when it came to Asian cinema, Hollywood borrowed, imitated, and remade mostly horror flicks or actioners, so “The Lake House” may represent some kind of first in drawing on romantic fodder. The 2000 South Korean film “Il Mare,” which explores the intriguing concept of communication across time, was an audience favorite after premiering at the Pusan Film Festival.

However, the film proves problematic when crossing geographic and linguistic barriers, since there are no rules to the central romantic conceit. This means that, whenever it’s conveninet, the stoy violates the rules of time and space so that the lovers can meet, depart, and experience loss. In other words, the film manipulate their viewers’ emotions in a sentimental mode that make “The Notebook,” New Line’s old fashioned romance that made a lot of money, seem logical and coherent.

Feeling that its time for a change in her life, in a wintry morning in 2006, Dr. Kate Forster (Bullock) leaves the suburban Illinois locale where she completed her residency and takes a job at a busy Chicago hospital. She’s reluctant to leave behind the uniquely beautiful house shes been renting, a spacious, artfully designed refuge with large windows that overlook a placid lake. The house is the only place in which she felt her true self.

On her way to the city, Kate leaves a note in the mailbox for the house’s next tenant, asking him to forward her mail and noting that the inexplicable painted paw prints he might notice by the front door were there when she moved in. But when the next tenant arrives, he sees a much different picture. Alex Wyler (Reeves), a talented but frustrated architect working at a nearby construction site, finds the lake house badly neglected: dusty, dirty and overgrown with weedsand he sees no sign of paw prints anywhere.

The house has special meaning for Alex, too. In happier times, it was built by his now-estranged father (Christopher Plummer), a renowned architect who allowed his professional acclaim to grow at the expense of his family life. Like Kate, Alex feels a sense of peace in the house and fully commits to restoring it to its original beauty. He disregards Kates note until, days later, while painting the weather-beaten jetty, he sees a stray dog run across the fresh paint and then towards the entrance of the house, leaving paw prints, exactly where Kate said theyd be.

Baffled, Alex writes back, saying that the house had no occupant before him and wondering how Kate could have known about the dog. Meanwhile, Kate, who just left the house a week ago, thinks he is playing some kind of joke on her and fires back a reply.

The double story is set on the same day, April 14, but two years apart, 2004 vs. 2006. As Kate and Alex continue to correspond through the lake houses mailbox, they confirm that they are incredibly and impossibly living two years apart. Both are at a time in their lives when they are struggling with past disappointments, trying to make a new start. Sharing this unusual bond, they reveal more of themselves to one another with each passing week, their secrets, doubts, and dreams–until they fall in love.

Determined to bridge the distance between them at last and unravel the mystery behind their extraordinary connection, they tempt fate by arranging to meet, realizing, that by trying to join their two separate worlds, they could risk losing each other forever.

Narratively, the film’s main problem is excessive crosscutting. Since for half of the yarn, the two main characters are apart, there is no other way but to present their story but through intercutting. But there are limits to how many times, we can see Bullock and/or Reeves standing in front of the mailbox waiting for their letter to be sent or be answered.

To variegate the proceedings, we get a formulaic family melodrama with a Freudian touch. Alex is close to his younger brother, who fulfills his father’s dream and has become a brilliant architect, hut he is alienated from his father. We patiently wait for the confrontation, reconciliation, and redemption, and sure enough those scenes appear in proper order and place, the most dramatic of which set in a hospital, where the father has just suffered a heart attack. Later on, Alex goes through an album of childhood photos, which reduces him to tears.

Not neglecting Kate’s family, the text also presents scenes bewteen her and her mother so as to establish some parallels between her sad childhood and Alex’s; both come from broken families.

At 40, Bullock may be too old by a decade to play such a romantic character, but we dispense credibility and cling to her natural likability. The part is a point of departure from Bullock’s more established screen image as a bright, rational, down-to-earth woman.

Keanu Reeeves is Keanu Reeves, and it doesn’t help that there is not much chemistry or heat between him and Bullock. Their joint scenes just reminds how important was the bus for their interaction in “Speed” (I’m not kidding), and how important was the medium that Whoopi Goldberg played in “Ghost” between Demi Moore and dead lover Patrick Swayze.

Mostly a two-handler, the film is underpopulated with secondary characters, which mainly function to alleviate us from the boredom. The supporting cast includes Dylan Walsh (TV’s “Nip/Tuck”) as Kate’s nominally “ideal” but practically unsuitable companion, Shohreh Aghdashloo (Oscar nominee for the 2004 “House of Sand and Fog”), as Kate’s friend and colleague Dr. Anna Klyczynski, who gives her some useful life lessons from her own experience, and Christopher Plummer, who seems to have phoned in his performance, perhaps realizing how senseless and underwritten his role is.

Agresti, still best-known for “Valentin,” a nostalgic coming-of-age tale about a boys dreams of becoming an astronaut, tries to compensate for the dull main plotline with myriad visual elements to reinforce the links and reference points between the two lovers. In moments, the film is nice to look at. Director of photography Alar Kivilo and production designer Nathan Crowley help establish the right mood for the ultra-romantic meller, though Rachel Portman’s score is uncharacteristically schmaltzy and pedestrian.