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Lake House (6/10)

by Tony Medley

The best of the time warp movies give you something to hang your hat on, an explanation of how what we are watching happened. In Final Countdown (1980), the best of the time warp movies, Kirk Douglas’s aircraft carrier goes through a mysterious storm in 1980 and when it comes out the other side it’s December 6, 1941. In “Somewhere in Time” (also in 1980), Christopher Reeve intentionally tries something to transport himself back to 1912 to meet Jane Seymour, and it works. Both films explain how time was warped, which allows the viewer some wonderful speculation.   Lake House never explains how these people got trapped in a time warp, and this failure robs it of what could be legitimate speculation. Instead it’s just a plot device that is not credible. Not only not credible, but not understandable. In a joint appearance on The Today Show to promote the film, Matt Lauer asked stars Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock how this could happen. Both were stumped, and rightly so because the film doesn’t even attempt to explain how it could happen. Then he asked them how they find out what’s going on and they looked at each other vacantly and finally Bullock came up with one of the scenes in the movie that is meant to convince them what’s going on, but it was clear that neither had thought of this question before. That’s the main weakness of the film, because screenwriter David Auburn and director Alejandro Agresti apparently didn’t consider it, either.

“Lake House” is unlike other time warp movies in yet another crucial aspect, in that it has the characters actually communicating with one another in their different time frames. In 2004 Alex Wyler (Reeves) rents an all-glass lake house, designed by his father, famed architect Simon Wyler (Christopher Plummer), built on stilts, that’s been vacant for two years. He finds a letter in the mailbox from prior tenant Kate Forster (Bullock) apologizing for the dog prints and referring to the box of letters in the attic. But there are no dog prints or box in the attic. Kate wrote her letter in 2006, when she moved out of the house.

The rest of the movie deals with this dichotomy, as Kate and Alex fall in love with each other despite the time barrier, communicating with each other through the magic mailbox. Where this is different is that it has Kate and Alex meet physically after he figures things out.  I love time warp movies but this one pretty much left me cold, mainly because there was no explanation as to how the time warp occurred and the device was just too transparent. Adding to my displeasure was the glacial pace of the European-style directing of Agresti. It’s only in the last half hour that interest really picks up so that I could get somewhat involved. There was a lot of squirming and watch-checking during the first hour of this one hour-45 minute movie.

The film is derived from an original 2000 South Korean film, “Il Mare,” and helped by the new script by Auburn, who wrote the play, “Proof,” upon which one of last year’s best films was based. Reeves and Bullock portray believable lovers who are separated by time. Difficult as it may be to comprehend, they actually create substantial chemistry between them even though they are rarely onscreen together, given the fact that one is living in 2004 and the other in 2006.

The film is weakened by the supporting performances of Shohreh Aghdashloo, who plays Kate’s friend, fellow doctor Anna, and Kate’s boy friend/fiancé, Morgan (Dylan Walsh). Kate is a real catch (not only is she Sandra Bullock, she’s also a medical doctor), and it was difficult for me to accept her having even the slightest interest in a nebbish like Morgan. Similarly, there seems nothing that would cause Kate and Anna to become friends, except that they are both doctors working at the same hospital. The movie really stalled for me when either of these supporting actors was onscreen.

Enhancing the romance is a terrific sound track that includes lots of old standards like Lerner & Lowe’s “Almost Like Being In Love,” Lai & Barouh’s “A Man and A Woman,” Carole King’s “It’s Too Late,” Richards & Leigh’s “Young at Heart,” Warren & Gordon’s “There Will Never Be Another You,” Trenet & Beach’s  “I Wish You Love,” and others.

Lake House is a nice try, but just doesn’t cut the mustard as a time warp movie, which will disappoint the men, although it does get passing grades as a romance, which will please the ladies.

June 15, 2006