How deeply silly is ``The Lake House"? As silly as a movie about two letter-writing lovers separated by a wrinkle in time can be. How much sweet, dumb fun is it? More than you might want to admit.
Based on a 2000 Korean film called ``Il Mare," ``Lake House" falls squarely in the genre of overripe early-'90s chick flicks such as ``Ghost" (1990), ``Only You" (1994), and ``Untamed Heart" (1993), the last forever enshrined as ``the Christian Slater monkey heart movie." Such films believe love can break through time and the great beyond, and they're willing to employ gauzy lenses, retro pop songs, and dazed-looking Hollywood stars to seduce moviegoers into their tender traps.
You can enjoy a movie like this straight up and have a good, happy cry, or you can enjoy it as an outrageous camp hoot. Either way, the most appropriate setting probably isn't a movie theater but your own couch late at night -- blanket and Ben & Jerry's optional. It's called romantic melodrama, children, and it's nothing to be ashamed of.
Here's where I tell you about the plot, and be advised that it makes as much sense as eggs at a barbecue. Dr. Kate Forster (Sandra Bullock) moves out of her lakefront house -- a glass-and-steel contraption that looks like one of Frank Lloyd Wright's minor burps -- and leaves a note in the mailbox telling the new renter where to forward her mail. Alex Wyler (Keanu Reeves), a hunky, disaffected architect, moves in and leaves a tart note in response.
Wouldn't he want to send it to her apartment? Of course he wouldn't; on some level he already knows this is a magic mailbox. Kate drives out one day from her job patching up ER cases with head nurse Shohreh Aghdashloo , reads the note, and leaves another. And so their epistolary pas de deux begins. It's not as lyrical as the one Jimmy Stewart and Margaret Sullavan had going in ``The Shop Around the Corner," but Reeves and Bullock are such engaging lunkheads that you go with it.
There's a catch, of course. She's living in 2006. He's living in 2004. That means Alex is renting the lake house before Kate. This is a harder nut to crack than a bi-coastal relationship: It's bi-temporal.
Within this set up, director Alejandro Agresti and scripter David Auburn -- he wrote the higher-math sudser ``Proof" and is clearly employing arcane romantic algorithms here -- ring all sorts of guilty-pleasure twists. For instance: Alex sends Kate on a walking tour of Chicago that ends with a wall on which he spray-painted a message two years earlier.
In the film's most shamelessly sappy scene, he shows up at a 2004 bash thrown by her then-boyfriend (Dylan Walsh) and woos her with words and a backyard slow dance to Paul McCartney's ``This Never Happened Before." (Good title, since the song didn't come out until late 2005.) Suddenly Kate's new memory comes flooding in: He's the guy she kissed at that party two years earlier.
By this point, the part of your brain that likes kittens has thrown in the towel. The part of your brain that pays the bills is saying, ``Now wait just a minute." Why couldn't Kate send Alex her 2004 e-mail address or phone number and tell him to just bluff it out? Why couldn't he tell her where he lives in 2006? Watching them stare at that mailbox until the tin flag flies up of its own accord wears thin after a while; listening to them ``talk" their letters to the air is absurd from the get-go.
There are complications, and there's much busy acting from the supporting players, especially Christopher Plummer as Alex's dad, a famous architect with an ego bigger than any of his buildings. (Plummer has a wonderful speech toward the end about how architecture captures the light; it feels cut-and-pasted from one of Auburn's serious plays.)
Reeves and Bullock are perfectly matched, though: they seem to belong to the same species -- they're the black labs of movie stars. Together for the first time since ``Speed," the two fire off mild wisecracks in one scene and look terribly wistful in the next, and that's all that's required. Even though they're hardly on screen together, there's more chemistry here than in all of ``The Break-Up."
Anyway, Agresti and Auburn know who their audience is, and it's not alpha males. As soon as Kate lets drop that her favorite author is Jane Austen and the Nick Drake songs kick in on the soundtrack, you know this movie won't be taking any prisoners. Don't fight it with logic, because you'll lose. ``The Lake House" understands we all have moments of bad timing in our lives, but nothing like this. This is gloriously ridiculous.
Ty Burr can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.