Kate Forster (Sandra Bullock) is a woman who believes in keeping her distance in a relationship. In "The Lake House," a wan weepie, she gets her wish – and then some. She enters into a romance with a man who is literally living two years in the past.
Alex Wyler (Keanu Reeves) first realizes something is amiss when he moves back into the badly neglected lakefront residence in suburban Illinois where he grew up as a child. A note in the mailbox from Kate, its previous tenant, asks him to forward her mail. He writes back that she must be mistaken because the place has had no previous tenant. In the ensuing back and forth it becomes clear that Alex is living unhappily in 2004 while Kate is moodily ensconced in 2006.
The quasi-time-travel gimmick here is derived from a South Korean film called "Il Mare." We're meant to pine for these two to somehow get together instead of living years apart. I was tempted to wisecrack, "But they already got together – in 'Speed'!" The physics, or metaphysics, of their attempts to unite are nonsensical and often confusing without meaning to be. Questions arise, such as, "Why don't they just try e-mailing each other?"
In "The Lake House," love means having to wait. And wait. Alex is a frustrated architect – his estranged father (Christopher Plummer) built that waterfront residence in happier times – and Kate is a mopey physician. Both are single, although Kate was engaged to a lawyer (Dylan Walsh) whose only drawback seems to be that he is living in the same year she is.
Because their lives are otherwise without romance, the stage is set for Alex and Kate to woo each other. They may not be in sync chronologically, but temperamentally they are two of a kind.
Reeves is engaging enough, and Bullock is not as annoying as she used to be. As she ages, her girl-next-door shtick seems to be winding down. (Her scabrous performance was one of the few things I liked in "Crash.") But great love stories require great spirit, and the script by David Auburn, who wrote the overrated play "Proof," is lackluster. The most impassioned moment, in fact, comes not from the "lovers" but from a rhapsodic monologue by Alex's father describing how architectural design can capture the light.
There is a germ of a good idea in the notion that an imaginary suitor can be more powerful than a real one. But director Alejandro Agresti isn't the man to pull it off. If you're a masochist, this film will work well on a double bill with "The Break-Up." In that movie, we couldn't wait for the couple to split up. Here, we wait an eternity for them to connect. Grade: C
• Rated PG for some language and a disturbing image.