Arts : Off the bus

Sandra Bullock and Keanu Reeves are star- and time-crossed lovers in The Lake House

The last time Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock teamed up onscreen, all they had to do was keep a bus from slipping under 50 mph. In the process, Fox made more than $350 million worldwide, and oh, yeah, Bullock — an awkwardly attractive newcomer who acted mostly by increasing the volume of her voice — became a household name. No, this isn’t Speed 2; Reeves dodged that bullet, letting Jason Patric take the fall. Instead, we get The Lake House, a romantic drama that defies time and, at times, logic. But, hey, it’s also sweet, endearing, and delivers a whole lot of the Reeves-Bullock chemistry that made Speed so much fun 12 years ago.

“There’s a bomb in the lake house! ... just kidding. So, how’ve you been?” Speed freaks Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock re-team to rent The Lake House.

“It just seemed to kind of come together — this film, this time,” says Reeves, who, believe it or not, comes across in person as the intellectual antithesis of everything he conveys onscreen. In fact, he’s so damn cool, I kind of want to take him out and buy him a beer.

Bullock, who feeds off of Reeves’ surprisingly boisterous energy, says, “Often, people would say, ‘You and Keanu should do something. It would be great to have you two together.’” But she insists it wasn’t intentional that they stayed apart cinematically for so long. “You wait until the right thing.”

The right thing, at least for Bullock, arrived when Paul Haggis suggested she read the script for The Lake House, an adaptation of the 2000 Korean film Siworae by none other than David Auburn, who won the Pulitzer for his play Proof. Now, why Bullock or anyone in their right mind would take Haggis’s advice about anything other than how to reduce one’s career to hack-work and steal Academy Awards from deserving directors, I will never know. But she did, and next thing she knew, she was reuniting with Reeves.

“They don’t make movies like this anymore,” Bullock insists. “It doesn’t have the formula that you can easily hang something on.”

Reeves calls it “an atypical dramatic romance. I was drawn to that.”

When Bullock’s character, Dr. Kate Foster, moves out of her lake house she leaves a letter for the next tenant, apologizing for some damage the previous tenant caused and asking him to forward her mail on to Chicago, where she is moving to do doctory stuff. The next tenant happens to be Keanu Reeves, or at least some guy named Alex Wyler, and he insists in a letter to her that there have been no previous tenants. His father, a famous architect and parental failure, designed and built the place. This confuses Kate, she confuses Alex right back, and, before long, they realize he’s living in 2004, she in 2006.

Get it? He was the previous tenant.

The two quickly become pen-pals, fall in love, and ... well, somewhere along the way, forget that maybe she could just look him up online and track him down in the present. Of course, that would bring reality into the equation and this film is a fairy tale based loosely on a lesson Jane Austen taught us all with Persuasion: Love is worth waiting for.

Crying yet?

They are communicating, Reeves says in a mock-sentimental tone, “on the wavelength of love.”

Bullock can’t stop laughing at that. “I hope he quotes you and makes you sound as cheesy as you sound right now.”

The film is actually a bit more complicated than just being about two out-of-time, star-crossed lovers. Both characters are cripplingly dysfunctional: Kate keeps her boyfriend at a distance and makes out with strangers at birthday parties he throws for her. Alex’s father embraced his career with more affection than he did his family, so now Alex can’t really connect with anyone — even a secretarial tart who bought a new pair of boots to, as near as we can tell, scuff up the ceiling-liner of his pickup. So, basically, it makes sense that two people unable to connect emotionally with others fall for people living two years away from them. No chance of real intimacy, see?

But that’s the beauty of the story, the way the two are drawn together despite their better judgment.

“I think they choose to be a part of this situation, to let go and allow themselves to be part of it,” Bullock says. “Part of what can’t be explained by others.”

Ask Reeves if he believes in romantic destiny, though, and he hems and haws by repeating those words — “Romantic destiny. Romantic destiny. Romantic destiny,” — over and over until Bullock is in hysterics. Next to each other, these two seem more in love than just about any couple I’ve ever met.

On the other hand, Bullock has no problem speaking about her 2005 marriage to Monster Garage host Jesse James. You know, if by “no problem,” you mean with riddles and sentences distinctly lacking in proper nouns. “I never wanted to get married,” she says, when pressed about her own feelings about romantic destiny. “It was a death sentence to me. How many marriages do you see that you really admire?”

Whether the film works or it doesn’t — and it does, even when it doesn’t — is irrelevant, because watching these two onscreen (and, if you’re lucky enough, off) — is what you really get with the price of admission. Let’s just hope it isn’t another 12 years before they team up again.

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