The Lake House (PG), directed by Alejandro Agresti, is playing at Canandaigua Theatres, Culver Ridge 16, Eastview 13, Geneseo Theatres, Greece Ridge 12, Henrietta 18, Pittsford Cinema, Tinseltown, Webster 12
Normally I would have snatched the nearest tub of popcorn and heaved it at the screen, kicking the other audience members on my way out: A movie in which people exist two years apart and correspond via an enchanted mailbox? This isn't my first flick, you know. But curiosity got the better of me and I folded my arms, silently daring The Lake House to make me a) believe and b) care. What I had forgotten is that c) I am a blindingly naïve romantic, lately contemplating the science of timing. I never stood a chance.
The Lake House features a reunion that possibly only my sister had wished for: Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock, who last shared screen time in 1994's Speed. Reeves is Alex, a melancholy real estate developer grappling with his past, while Bullock is Kate, a lonely doctor trying to reorder her life following a breakup. As the film opens Kate is vacating the titular structure, a gorgeous eyesore on a lake near Chicago. She leaves a note in the mailbox to the next tenant concerning the forwarding of her mail, and confusion ensues when Alex collects the note upon moving in, believing the house had been vacant for years.
And now would be the time for you to let go and trust me for a spell.
A few missives through the magic mailbox establish that Kate is living in 2006 and Alex exists in 2004, and rather than be terrified by this serious wrinkle in space and time --- or use it for personal gain (Google IPO, you fools!) --- Kate and Alex begin a correspondence that grows increasingly meaningful to both of them. Granted, watching people write letters to each other can be mind-numbing, but director Alejandro Agresti (I've never heard of him either) films their unconventional romance using clever split-screens and voiceovers whose related imagery takes advantage of the hidden charms of the WindyCity.
But it's not all ink and prose. Kate has an ex/current (Dylan Walsh, from Nip/Tuck) who pops up occasionally as well as a stressful job at which she confides in her mentor (smoky, slinky Shohreh Aghdashloo, Oscar nominee for House of Sand and Fog). Alex, meanwhile, is contending with the expectations of his architect father (Christopher Plummer, matchless), a distant man who designed that equally isolated house at the lake. And when they're not dealing with their separate realities, Kate and Alex try to figure out a way to move their aching chemistry from the page to the present, with satisfying near-misses and frustrating direct hits.
And I don't particularly dig Bullock or Reeves --- her edgy and boisterous smugness makes it nearly impossible to get invested in any of her characters, while he's typically wooden and a bit bewildered. Maybe they've discovered maturity, or perhaps it's because the written word lends itself to safely baring your soul, but their characters here are suffused with a sad vulnerability that I haven't seen either actor exhibit before now. Reeves and Bullock don't share that many scenes together, and they seem as odd a match as they did over a decade ago. But once you buy the concept of a time-spanning mailbox, I guess anything goes.
Admittedly, The Lake House sounds like a mess, and it's nearly unreviewable in that its appeal lies in its execution. Pulitzer Prize winner David Auburn (Proof) adapted his screenplay from the Korean film Il Mare, and there are many moments that elicit a "But why didn't she..." or a "He could have just..." Fortunately, these thoughts generally don't occur until the closing credits, when you're able to rush home and scrub that cheap and used feeling off of yourself (assuming the tears didn't wash it away first). Just consider bringing along another sappy chump to explain away any nagging logic.
As much as any superhero movie, this is escapism, pure and simple. If you want a sobering dose of reality, go see An Inconvenient Truth. But if, like me, you want to feel something but you'd rather not have to think about it (seriously, I am Hollywood's dream moviegoer --- everything comes as a complete shock to me), there are worse ways to while away the summer than at The Lake House.
Brandon (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) to the vice principal (Richard Roundtree) in Rian Johnson's sly high school noir Brick: "I gave you Jared to see him eaten, not to see you fed."
The Cinema Theater is giving you another chance to see what is thus far the year's best film. Don't blow it.