The Lake House (PG)

The postman always rings two years late
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The Independent Culture

The Lake House reunites the two actors who were turned into superstars in 1994 by Speed, Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock - or it almost reunites them, anyway.

Bullock plays a doctor in a Chicago hospital, which means, in Hollywood terms, that she's intelligent and caring, but she doesn't have time for a love life. Reeves plays an architect, which means, in Hollywood terms, that he's creative and well-off, but not unapproachably glamorous. When he moves into a lake house just outside the city - a gazebo on stilts, really - he finds a note from the previous occupant, Bullock, in the mailbox. He writes back to her, and soon they have a correspondence going, an epistolary courtship which has just one minor complication. Bullock is writing her letters in 2006, and Reeves is writing his in 2004. Their mail is zipping back and forth along the space-time continuum. And if you think that's confusing, wait until you get to the scenes where Keanu bumps into Sandra in 2004, and then writes to Sandra in 2006 to ask if she remembers their meeting. Close attention to Bullock's hairstyle is required if you want to keep track of it all.

Borrowed from a South Korean film, Il Mare, The Lake House has the sort of premise which you either go with or you don't. If when you watch Dr Who you wonder, "Yes, but why doesn't he just hop back in time to before the Dalek invasion and warn everyone," then The Lake House's casual attitude towards internal logic will drive you up the wall. But the film-makers themselves aren't interested in the mechanics of time travel. They don't play any Back To The Future-style games with paradoxes and alternate universes, and everyone is too polite to ask how exactly a mailbox outside a lake house came to double as a time machine. Reeves doesn't even get Bullock to post him next week's winning lottery numbers. The characters just accept their postal time-warp as an unconventional way of becoming close to someone while staying away from them, and the film invites us to do the same.

It's a romantic reverie, and it's not ashamed to admit it. Scripted by David Auburn, the playwright best known for Proof, The Lake House is so sincere in its affection for Chicago's buildings, Jane Austen's novels, Nick Drake's songs and all things mushy that it seems churlish to nit-pick.

True, you can't hear Keanu rhapsodising over Sandra's "gentle, unguarded eyes" without sniggering. And, having met on Speed, the actors are now in a film which could be called Slowness. Most of the scenes between Reeves and his dad, Christopher Plummer, feel as if they're there to pad out a plot which the Dr Who team could have wrapped up in an episode.

But while The Lake House might have a few loose tiles and rusty hinges, it's still a desirable property. Some viewers will leave the cinema puzzling over what happened when and why, but other viewers will leave the cinema sniffling. The chances are that the latter will outnumber the former.