A peculiar wrinkle in time links two Chicago lonely hearts in “The Lake House,” but director Alejandro Agresti and screenwriter David Auburn seem more interested in making a wanly romantic Hallmark postcard than a movie resonating with mystery and loss. Based on Lee Hyeon-seung’s 2000 Korean romancer “Il Mare,” pic reps one of the first Hollywood remakes of a recent East Asian film not belonging to the horror genre. But pic lacks the astonishing moments, strong emotions or real amusement — let alone real heat between co-leads Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock — that would encourage more remakes of its kind or generate any feeling in audiences other than indifference.
A mailbox at a home built on stilts over a body of water becomes a conduit for a pair of the home’s occupants separated by a two-year time span in the original cute but finally messy “Il Mare” story. This time, it feels strained.
The sheer fun of being in the position of Dr. Kate Forster (Bullock) or architect Alex Wyler (Reeves) and communicating with a stranger across time is filtered out of Argentine helmer Agresti’s (“Valentin,” “The Act in Question”) handling, with pic aiming for profundity through multiple story levels that aren’t fully realized.
Opening minutes almost exactly trace “Il Mare,” with Kate packing and moving from the glass-box-style house perched over Lake Michigan on Chicago’s North Shore, and Alex moving in, finding a note from Kate in the mailbox requesting her mail be forwarded and apologizing for the dog paw prints at the entrance.
Alex doesn’t see any paw prints, but a day or so later, a dog appears and makes a mess. As the pair starts exchanging puzzled notes, Kate corrects Alex on his dating, noting that it’s 2006, not 2004.
Agresti has the mailbox’s red flag go magically up and down to show Alex and Kate are connecting — a clever visual device. Nonetheless, one wonders why, when the twosome are clearly growing interested in one another, Kate doesn’t simply give Alex her phone number.
The adaptation by Auburn (“Proof”) departs from the original in the half-achieved dramatization of Kate’s (other) love life and Alex’s family life, particularly in the complicated interaction between Alex, his father Simon (Christopher Plummer) and Alex’s younger brother Henry (Ebon Moss-Bachrach).
Even as Kate’s involvement with buttoned-down lawyer Morgan (Dylan Walsh) leads to potential frissons of emotions that never ignite, the playing out of Alex’s love-hate relationship with Simon uneasily tries to draw connections between the main love story and a father-son drama that poses the same sort of tensions between a genius parent and unsure mentor-child as in “Proof,” but with far less conviction.
“The Lake House” is never quite sure what it wants to be –a magical-mysterious love story, a psychodrama, a sprawling family saga, or an uneasy combination of these. For all its manifest nonsense, “Il Mare” maintained direction as a chamber piece between two characters trying to connect across time, if not space; “The Lake House” aspires to be more and in the process, loses track of its central core.
Bullock makes the rather glum n’ solemn Kate a shade glummer, bringing the movie’s energy level down several stops. Reeves, on the other hand, seems pleased when his Alex senses that true love is entering his life.
In a fatuously written role, Plummer loads on the ham to distressing effect, while Shohreh Aghdashloo (as Kate’s doctor friend) and Walsh are burdened with poorly conceived dialogue. Moss-Bachrach contributes a nice accent of friskiness.
Production package is solid though uninspired, including a Rachel Portman score that hints that the talented composer is repeating herself once too often and a misty-eyed lensing scheme by Alar Kivilo. Key contribution by production designer Nathan Crowley, a house you might not want to really live in, is far from memorable.