Baity is drowning at The Lake House

by Glen Baity

I admit it: I went to see The Lake House despite the fact that it looked and sounded like a Nicholas Sparks novel. My reasons for doing so might have had more to do with my schedule this past weekend than my interest in the screen reunion of Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock, here working together for the first time since Speed.

But I confess to being intrigued by the premise. If you missed the preview: Reeves plays Alex Wyler, an architect who moves into the titular lake house in the late winter of 2004. There he finds a note in the mailbox from the previous tenant requesting that any mail she receives be forwarded to her new residence in Chicago.

The two begin corresponding and realize something weird is going on: Alex, who moves into the house in 2004, is writing in real time to Kate Forster, who moved out of the house in 2006. The two are living concurrently on the same day, two years apart.

The mailbox, then, is some kind of portal, acting as an interdimensional instant messenger between the two of them. The mechanics of this convention are never really explained, and to be honest, I actually liked that about this film. It’s a fantastic device plunked down in a mundane world, and that fact that it’s just there ‘— no explanation required ‘— makes it a welcome oddity.

As this film rolls along, the characters’ histories are revealed pieces at a time. We learn that they did cross paths a time or two and that their plans to meet up in 2006 ‘— tomorrow for her, two years hence for him ‘— are stymied for reasons unknown. But as those meetings are carried out, it becomes increasingly implausible that Kate doesn’t remember or recognize Alex when she sees him. It’s one of those things for which you simply have to suspend disbelief, and The Lake House makes it relatively easy to do so.

The film, a remake of Korean film Il Mare has several of the right ingredients to make it an unconventional love story in the vein of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, but it doesn’t reach anything approaching that level simply because it is, in fact, so obstinately determined to be conventional.

For one, neither of the leads conveys any sense of real wonder at the impossible situation they find themselves in. Bullock’s character, especially, accepts the reality of it so quickly the audience can be forgiven for thinking this sort of thing happens to her all the time.

I’ll resist the urge here to bash Keanu Reeves, whose often witless, Shatneresque delivery has made him a critical punching bag since Point Break. Nobody believes me, but Reeves is perfectly capable of turning in a good performance ‘— see his turn as the abusive, backwoods boyfriend in The Gift, or his great supporting role as a New Age dentist in last year’s Thumbsucker ‘— but I’ll concede he’s far less reliable than the majority of his contemporaries.

And it’s the ‘“whoa’” Keanu who shows up at The Lake House. His reading of this character is straight out of Sweet November. Both Alex and Kate are so relentlessly self-absorbed that they treat the fact that they happen to be living two years apart like it were just one of those things, as if he were in California and she in New York ‘— it’ll take some work, baby, but we’ll get through it. Really, did either of these two ever stop to consider the applicable real-world benefits of having a portal in your mailbox?

Of course, the idea of time travel brings up a number of unavoidable paradoxes: can you go back and talk to yourself? If so, what are the ramifications of that action? If fate is predetermined, can you stop something awful happening to yourself or someone you love?

On a side note, all three Final Destination films have taught me that the answer to that last question is a resounding No. In fact, if you’re not careful, you might just tempt Fate to burn you alive in a fiery car crash.

Anyway, the film’s major plot point is set up far in advance, and the scene that does so, frankly, sticks out like a sore thumb. I say this because as a moviegoer, it’s very easy to put a ‘gotcha!’ over on me, but even I saw this one coming a mile away.

The combined numbing effect of the pedestrian performances, the obvious arc of the story and the wasted supernatural element makes The Lake House something of a missed opportunity. The ending, which is mercifully brief, is nevertheless pure, gooey pabulum, a loving tribute to Alex and Kate’s obliviousness to anything but their love.

As a study of time travel and alternate realties, The Lake House is somewhat less interesting than The Butterfly Effect, and as a love story it’s soaked to the bone in bathos. It’s enough to make you wish Bullock and Reeves had saved their long-delayed reunion for Speed 3.

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