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The Lake House

One of the quickest ways to get any film project the green light is to re-team a famous Hollywood couple — the days of Bogie & Bacall and Hepburn & Tracy may have passed us by, but contemporary filmgoers still remember the spark between Richard Gere and Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman and the inexplicable sensual heat cooked up by George Clooney and Jennifer Lopez in Out of Sight. Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock's sole romantic encounter of the 1990s is just as memorable, if far less conventional — the pair fell in love under the intense circumstances of Speed (1994), where they managed to steal one or two brief romantic moments while smashing up greater Los Angeles with a bomb-rigged city bus. Thankfully, their screen reunion was not in 1997's Speed 2: Cruise Control (Keanu went on tour with his rock band), but instead Alejandro Agresti's The Lake House (2006), a paperback romance that has nothing to do with freeways, fuses, or dynamite. Bullock stars as Kate Forster, a Chicago ER surgeon who finds the stresses of her job almost too much to bear, taking up residence in a remote lake house outside of the city, where she finds solace in solitude and her one companion, her dog Jack. Reeves is Alex Wyler, an architect who's overseeing a new condo development, who also takes up residence in the glass-box lake house. However, for Kate it's 2006, while Alex moves in during 2004. They only cross paths by means of the home's roadside mailbox, where Alex finds Kate's message to have her mail forwarded. The only problem is that her new Chicago address doesn't even exist — or at least not yet. Further letters between the two indicate (and eventually prove) that they are communicating to each other from the same location, but at different times. At first, neither finds it terribly amusing — what appears to be an elaborate practical joke doesn't sit well when Kate is dealing with pressures from her job, her family, and a failed relationship, while Alex has returned to Chicago after four years' absence to take on a routine condo development while trying to live up to his father, legendary architect Simon Wyler (Christopher Plummer). But they soon find that they look forward to each other's letters, and Alex believes that he may be able to find Kate in his own time, and then wait to reach her in hers.

*          *          *

Based on the 2000 Korean film Siworae and adapted by screenwriter David Auburn, The Lake House marks the first Hollywood feature by Argentinean director Alejandro Agresti, as well as a bold counter-programming theatrical release by Warner Bros., arriving in the summer of 2006 when most folks plunk down money to see things like misunderstood superheroes and saucy pirates. After a modest debut, House grossed a respectable $52 million domestically, establishing that some people would rather enjoy a traditional love story, no matter what time of year. However, The Lake House is still unconventional enough to defy easy categorization. In an era where "romance" normally means "romantic comedy," typically involving a clash of wills between a commitment-phobic man, a headstrong woman, and their wacky friends, Agresti's picture is a welcome change of pace — while amusing in moments, it's less concerned with analyzing why some people don't want to be in relationships, instead focusing on two people who simply have to yet to find an ideal mate. It also freely plays within the Magic Realism genre, which means that it requires an almost defiant suspension of disbelief to enjoy — yes, it's filled with time-paradoxes, and no, mailboxes really aren't magic, which means that folks who watch with an analytical eye will likely be disappointed, while those who are willing to buy the fantastical premise may find themselves moved by the story itself. Thankfully, The Lake House doesn't break down its time-premise like an episode of "Star Trek" might. At most, it's merely a device that's used to initiate a story of two essentially lonely people whose professional lives have taken the place of intimate relationships, using the barrier of time itself the way that Shakespeare uses warring clans in Romeo & Juliet to create a romance that appears doomed from the start. The film's small cast all deliver good performances, in particular Bullock with her effortless girl-next-door charm, as well as Christopher Plummer as the authoritarian architect who seems entirely cut off from his children. And perhaps Keanu Reeves is the best surprise of all — often, he's been an actor that we want to like more than we actually admire, and while he may never live down some notoriously wooden line readings in ham salads like Speed and Point Break, he seems older, more relaxed, and — dare we say it? — more comfortable here, as if he's finally turned in his tank-tops and wet-suits for an old flannel shirt. Either that, or we've just become more comfortable with his oddly formal inflections. Warner Home Video's DVD release of The Lake House features an excellent anamorphic transfer (2.35:1) with Dolby Digital 5.1 audio. Extras are limited to five deleted scenes/outtakes and the theatrical trailer — if the film proves a hit on home video, a more extensive DVD eventually may be in order. Keep-case.

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