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(2006) (Keanu Reeves, Sandra Bullock) (PG)

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Romantic Drama: An architect and a doctor develop a relationship while exchanging letters from the same lake house where they live two years apart from each other.
Alex Wyler (KEANU REEVES) is an architect who's moved back to Chicago after a several year absence during which he was trying to get out from the imposing shadow of his emotionally distant father, Simon (CHRISTOPHER PLUMMER), a famous architect. Like Alex's brother Henry (EBON MOSS-BACHRACH), Simon thinks Alex has sold out, but that hasn't deterred him from moving into an all-glass lake house his father designed decades ago. Moving in, he discovers a letter left from the "previous" tenant, Kate Forster (SANDRA BULLOCK), who's just started working at a hospital alongside fellow doctor Anna (SHOHREH AGHDASHLOO) and has asked that her mail be forwarded to her new address.

When Alex goes there, he discovers the place has yet to be built. When he writes back to her, the two learn to their surprise and initial disbelief that their letters are magically going back and forth from his time -- in 2004 -- to hers in 2006 via the mailbox outside the lake house.

Despite Kate being in an on and off-again relationship with lawyer Morgan (DYLAN WALSH) and Alex being pursued by construction office worker Mona (LYNN COLLINS) the two hit it off despite what poses to be a decidedly long distance relationship. As each tries to deal with personal issues in their own lives, they must figure out what to do with their budding romance and the unique set of obstacles standing in their way.

OUR TAKE: 4 out of 10
In the past decade or so, the U.S. Postal Service hasn't had the best of luck in terms of how it's viewed by the masses. For starters, some unfortunate shootings led to the adoption of deranged people being known as "going postal" on others. There were the anthrax scares, delivery issues, and raising rates to send mail. And then there was the introduction and widespread acceptance of speedy, near instantaneous email that resulted in old-fashioned postal delivery being referred to as "snail mail."

Accordingly, the folks at the USPS should be pleased as punch with the romantic drama "The Lake House." Although I don't recall ever seeing an actual mail carrier in it, the "chick flick" possesses something even better -- a magical mailbox positioned alongside the titular structure. Simply place any shelled mollusk based postal material in it and voila, it instantaneously travels through time. Two years, to be exact, so that the film's main characters -- played by Sandra Bullock and Keanu Reeves -- who live that much time apart at the same location can exchange correspondence with each other.

Based on the South Korean film "Siworae" (also known as "Il Mare" -- loosely possessing the same plot thrust), the film will also likely remind some viewers of the made for TV movie "The Love Letter" where Campbell Scott played a contemporary guy who buys an antique desk, finds a century old letter inside it, and begins corresponding with a Civil War era woman played by Jennifer Jason Leigh.

The beauty -- or problem, depending on how you view such matters -- of that storyline -- based on the short story by Jack Finney -- was that the two would-be lovers could never meet (sorry, Doc Brown wasn't around with a Delorean or locomotive to bridge the time-space continuum).

That, of course, made the film more poetically haunting in that they shared a love that could never be (at least in terms of actually meeting each other face to face without any sort of creepy, grave-robbing necrophilia angle). Here, as in the 2000 South Korean tale, the comparatively short two-year span offers some compelling potential. After all, the party in the past -- that being Reeves' architect character -- could go see his temporal housemate -- Bullock's hospital doc -- before she was ever aware of their "relationship" and/or the magical mailbox.

Despite the vast opportunities and possibilities of playing around with time as well as the notion of being in a "long distance" relationship (including but not limited to somehow bungling and then needing to repair their relationship), neither writer David Auburn nor director Alejandro Agresti have as much fun -- romantic, sci-fi or otherwise -- with the material. Yes, I'm sure there will be those who love the film in that sort of teary-eyed, chick flick "awww" fashion (especially those longing to see the leads reunited for the first time since sharing a bus ride back in "Speed"), but others may find this a rather long and boring excursion.

And some of that stems from the construction of the plot. While the two characters do briefly interact from time to time, otherwise they're separated and thus their "conversation" takes place via the sending of letters. Accordingly, we get to hear the actors reading their characters' words in a back and forth exchange that quickly wears out its welcome.

Another problem is that the film is the temporal opposite of that previous offering's descriptive title. Yes, it's incredibly slow -- not that I was expecting anything particularly speedy, but at least a pic like this should keep me involved in the story. While it has its moments -- some touching, others funny (including a montage of discovering the instantaneous delivery capabilities of the magic box) -- the main story and the subplots (especially one involving Reeve's character dealing with his emotionally distant father played by Christopher Plummer) ultimately don't amount to much, but certainly take their sweet time doing so.

That said, and having previously tried to pen a time-travel screenplay (something I don't recommend if you wish to keep your sanity if you're striving for credible "realism"), my biggest issue was with that very sci-fi angle, particularly since any "new" interactions in the former temporal setting between the two main characters would obviously change the outcome of the contemporary one.

Of course, there are two solutions. One is the introduction (and, more importantly, the explanation) of parallel time lines created by any change in the past. Such an approach removes the need for worrying about "this" changing "that" and how things then line up between the two times. While that seems to be the case here, one can only assume that from the problems in temporal logic, and since it's never discussed.

The other approach is easier, but also lazier in that the filmmakers simply want us to suspend any disbelief and just go with the flow, much like the main characters once they get over but never really question the magic mailbox.

That might be easy for die-hard romantics, and I'd be remiss if I didn't say that the film does work to small degrees on that level, particularly as things begin to wrap up and various revelations (including one loosely tied to the stars' previous collaboration) eventually come about. And speaking of romance, the filmmakers are obviously also in love with Chicago, portraying the Windy City as an architecturally beautiful place to have one's heart go aflutter

I just wish the film were smarter or at least more creative in dealing with the subject matter and obvious time travel possibilities. I understand it wanting to be poignant and tug at the old heartstrings, but various moments end up being more irritating than romantic as you want to yell out to the characters to do this or that to make things work. Not horrible by any means but certainly missing the boat when it comes to the built-in romance meets sci-fi premise and potential, "The Lake House" rates as a 4 out of 10.

Reviewed June 12, 2006 / Posted June 16, 2006

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