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Lagging Letters 

Here you go, folks, the first date movie of the season. It's a gentle and breezy story about two soulmates who, you know, have difficulty getting together. No, wait. Maybe it's a fantasy. After all, as explained in the first reel, these two people, who are in nothing more than a letter-writing "long-distance" relationship, live in different time continuums. Hmmm, so that would actually make this an example of speculative fiction (like sci-fi without the "sci").

Again, hmm. This movie doesn't know what it wants to be. Nothing left for a befuddled film critic to do but head over to the sometimes-reliable Internet Movie Data Base (imdb.com) for an explanation. And yup, right there, under "plot keywords," it lists: architect, lake, tenant, time, dog, correspondence, mailbox, house, father-son relationship, doctor, remake, love.

The list goes on, but it just ain't gonna help. Although following the trail of "remake" leads one to the 2000 Korean film Siworea, which the IMDB files under: architect, car accident, letter, tides, time travel, title spoken by character.

Ah, a breakthrough! So The Lake House is really... a big mess of ideas, tossed together in chick-flick form, featuring two good-looking people (and a dog, a really cool stooge terrier) -- a doctor and an architect -- who are living in two different years, 2004 and 2006, and are head-over-heels in love. Since they've only met via their letters, they can't figure out what to do next.

He is Alex (Keanu Reeves), once planning to be a visionary architect, now relegated to building box-house developments. She is Kate (Sandra Bullock), a doctor just out of her residency, hoping to save the world, one person at a time. When first met, Kate and her dog Jack are moving out of the title abode, a bizarre, glass-walled structure built up on stilts, nestled in a serene setting. The film cuts to Alex, who, soon after, is moving in to the same place, dogless. She has left for the city; he, apparently, has come from the city. She was renting it; he has bought it. She has left a note: "Dear tenant, welcome to your new home..." along with a forwarding address. And soon (watch out, here it comes), as letters go back and forth (but not via the U.S. Postal Service; they just kind of pop up in a big metal mailbox every time the red metal flag pops up on its own (don't ask)... soon, just after Alex and Kate realize that they're living in different years (I SAID DON'T ASK), Jack the terrier suddenly appears back at the lake house and becomes Alex's dog.

What are two lonely people to do? She has her mom and some friends at work, and oh yeah, there was that boyfriend named Morgan, who didn't really trust her after he caught her kissing some guy at a party. And he has his architect brother and architect dad (Christopher Plummer), neither of whom he's seen for a long time due to dad's general unpleasantness. But they want, they need to, they must find a way to get across this weird time spectrum in order to be with each other.

Now here are a few questions. Why do these two obviously intelligent people just accept this circumstance? In fact, at key points, it's hard to figure out exactly who is in which year. And forgive my lack of romanticism, but why wouldn't Alex (two years behind) ask Kate a couple of questions about, say, the stock market or the results of a few horse races? That kind of information could sure come in handy.

Switching over to concerns about the people watching this movie, the revelation of the time difference plot happens much too early. It's all spilled out and understood by both would-be lovers in the first third of the film. There's really nowhere for the story to go.

Well, part of that is taken care of with some initially nifty writing that focuses on their communication and how it changes over time. First the letters they write to each other are shown. Later, the letters are being read in voice-over. Before long, the voice-overs are presented as conversations. Finally, Kate and Alex are seen in rooms together, looking at each other and talking back and forth. But of course, this is only part of the fantasy element. They're not really there.

Thank goodness, a little intrigue and suspense begins to develop near the end. But this comes at the expense of also having some Jane Austen references and that father-son relationship business. Both lead actors give pleasing performances, and the ending is one that all the sentimentalists in the audience will want. Oh, and the dog's terrific, too. It's just too bad that none of The Lake House makes a lick of sense.

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