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Inconsistencies hobble interesting premise

By Lady Liberty
web posted June 19, 2006

The Lake House

* 1/2 out of ****

The Lake HouseI'm rarely all that excited to see what's likely to prove a "chick flick," but I thought the premise of The Lake House was intriguing. The fact that it starred Keanu Reeves — long a favorite of mine — didn't hurt, either. And so, together with a friend, I decided that The Lake House was a good way to spend a part of my evening.

The titular lake house is a modern architectural gem. Made mostly of glass and poised atop stilts at the edge of a lake, it represents the peace and tranquility long sought by the woman who rents it, Dr. Kate Forster (Sandra Bullock). It's thus with deep regret that she is moving to an apartment in the heart of Chicago to make the commute to her new job an easier one. On her way out the door for the last time, she leaves a note for the next tenant in the mailbox expressing the hope they enjoy the house and that they'll kindly forward any of her mail.

The catch is that the "next" tenant turns out to be the previous tenant, architect Alex Wyler (Keanu Reeves). He moves into the lake house to find Kate's note waiting for him. He's confused by her mention of things about the house that apparently don't exist; he also wonders at her carelessness in mistaking the date for sometime in 2006. He writes back to her with a brief note of his own which, two years in the future, Kate finds just as puzzling.

Meanwhile, Kate does her best to get up to speed on her new job. Dr. Anna Klyczynski (Shoreh Aghdashloo) is her mentor and, as it turns out, enough of a friend to suggest she take a break now and again to get entirely away from the hospital and even the city. Kate typically uses her brief time off to return to the lake house which, in her time, is still empty. But the mailbox usually has a note from the past in it, and she becomes more and more eager to read each of them and to respond herself.

Two years in the past, Alex designs condominiums. That's something his ambitious younger brother Henry (Ebon Moss-Bachrach) views with a certain amount of incredulity given the grandiose plans the two had as children; his father, the famous architect Simon Wyler (Christopher Plummer) makes little secret of his outright disgust with both of his sons. Alex works hard to gain at least some acknowledgment from his estranged father, but the elder Wyler is largely uncooperative. Alex, though, does have one bright spot in his life, and that's his growing feelings for Kate.

Kate and Alex, who are both alone in their respective times, find comfort and eventually deep feelings in their letters to each other. But with two years separating them, their emotions are frustrated at best. It's obvious that the two will have to arrange some way to meet, but fate and their own lives keep getting in the way and confusing matters even more than they already are. Eventually, both begin to wonder if there's any hope at all, either for their own happiness or for the chance to try to share their lives.

Sandra Bullock is often too perky for her own good (though it suits her in many of her movies). She's somewhat toned down here, and does a good job conveying the melancholy of a successful but very lonely woman. Keanu Reeves, who is too often emotionless (again, something that suits many of his characters) is surprising here, particularly in one scene where his display of grief is wrenching. The fact that the two still have the chemistry together they exhibited in their previous effort together (the very successful Speed) also helps. The supporting cast, while certainly adequate (and better than that in the case of Plummer's performance) is almost incidental as the movie rests almost entirely on the shoulders of its two stars.

Director Alejandro Agresti has a lengthy résumé, but the vast majority of his previous efforts have been foreign in origin. That may or may not have proved helpful to him as he worked on this American adaptation of an Asian film. It certainly had some effect on the choices he made where dramatic edits are concerned, and as far as American audiences are concerned, appeared to me to have diluted some impact. More creative editing might have lent itself well to enhancing the parallel but time-separated lives at the heart of the story, and the simplicity of the plot otherwise could have used the help.

Writer David Auburn has the critically acclaimed Proof behind him, but his inexperience shows in the script here. While there are certainly no explanations of the time slip strictly necessary, there are other holes in the plotline that might have been better filled, and there are moments of such unreality that your necessary suspension of belief is strained to the limits.

On the whole, The Lake House isn't a truly bad movie. Its poignance will touch your heart provided you can let go of some of the more jarring inconsistencies in the film. But that it could have been quite a bit better makes the movie almost sadder in the lack of fulfilling its potential than in its admittedly touching story.

FAMILY SUITABILITY: The Lake House is rated PG for "some language and a disturbing image." Young children aren't going to understand or appreciate a romantic story at all let alone one involving the complication of an apparently time traveling mailbox. The language isn't so rough, though, or anything else so inappropriate, that the average 12 year-old couldn't see the movie if he or she (frankly, far more likely she) is so inclined. How much you'll enjoy the film yourself depends almost entirely on how much you're willing to let its stars carry it for you. For me, the actors could only take it so far.

Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang

**** out of ****

Kiss Kiss, Bang BangI didn't hear much about this movie when it was released last year, but I heard enough to make me want to see it. It didn't seem to me to be the type of film that would show locally, but I live near enough to a large city that I can drive less than an hour to see more "artsy" films if I so desire. Unfortunately — and for reasons unknown to me — even the bigger venues nearby never had Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang on their marquees. I'd all but forgotten about it when a movie buff friend of mine mentioned it had been released on DVD and suggested we rent it. I agreed, and now I can only regret that I didn't drive whatever distance might have been required to see this gem sooner.

As Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang begins (the title references what one cynical moviegoer suggested to be the basic premise of too many movies), we meet petty thief, Harry Lockhart (Robert Downey, Jr.). He and a partner are Christmas "shopping" in New York when a mishap leads to a police presence. As he runs away from the cops, Harry bursts through a door only to find the room occupied by several people seated at a long table. He's surprised that they're not surprised, and he's even more nonplussed when they welcome him and hand him a sheet of paper.

Harry, as it turns out, has mistakenly entered a room where auditions for a new detective movie are ongoing. Thinking he's the next actor to read for the lead part, the group begins his audition without further ado. Harry is just about to inform them of their mistake when a police officer shows up. By going with the flow, Harry manages to avoid arrest and — shocking even himself — secures a screen test at the same time.

Once Harry is in Los Angeles, he's teamed up with a real investigator, Perry van Shrike (Val Kilmer), so that he can get some background for his character. Perry, who is flagrantly homosexual and thus known to most of his acquaintances as "Gay Perry," barely tolerates Harry's presence. But a job is a job, so Perry cooperates, at least to some extent.

Harry and Perry first meet at a party thrown by the wealthy Harlan Dexter (Corbin Bernson) where Harry manages to find trouble; later, Perry takes Harry on a stake-out with him. If that's not enough to keep Harry occupied, things begin to get really complicated when Harry runs into the beautiful Harmony Lane (Michelle Monaghan) and discovers he has feelings for her. At the same time, the stake-out with Perry goes very, very wrong; Harmony wants Harry's help with a problem of her own; and the Los Angeles fast life has Harry's head spinning from good guys to bad guys, and from guys who seem bad but who might be okay after all. Or vice versa. Or even, possibly, both.

If all of this sounds complicated — and I've frankly not touched on the half of it — well, it kind of is. But not to worry: Harry helpfully serves as an informative narrator to ensure the audience keeps up with all of the action. So we have Harry, Perry, Harmony, and Harlan, plus twists, turns, and dangers involving characters like Mr. Frying Pan, Mr. Fire, and Pink Hair Girl all coming into play. And the result — which could so easily have been a chaotic mess — is a wonderful melange of comedy, mystery, drama, and more.

Robert Downey, Jr. has long been known as a brilliant actor, but he's had problems getting and keeping work at various times in the past thanks to some serious problems with drugs and alcohol. Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang was filmed after his rehabilitation, and his brilliance here is incandescent. He's funny, he's tragic, he's dramatic, and touchingly vulnerable, sometimes all at once. His demons aside, he's arguably the best actor of his generation (I consider his only real peer to be Johnny Depp).

Val Kilmer serves as a surprisingly good foil for Downey with some real comedic talents of his own (those of you who've seen Kilmer starring in the obscure Top Secret — if you're an Airplane fan, you'll love Top Secret if you can get your hands on it — already knew he could do it). Michelle Monaghan who seemed wooden at times in this summer's Mission: Impossible III is delightful in Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang; Corbin Bernson and the others in the supporting cast are also very good.

Shane Black made his directorial debut with Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang. He also wrote the script, which doubtless helped his able direction and excellent edits considerably when piecing the story together. Black, who may be best known for penning the original Lethal Weapon screenplay (he also had more than a little to do with the Lethal Weapon sequels as well as other films such as The Last Action Hero), has really topped himself here. Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang has the best script I've seen since the superlative Sideways. Topping off a truly clever script is the fact that Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang knows it's a movie, and it knows we're watching it, and somehow that device — which really only worked really well some years ago in the TV series Moonlighting — only makes this very good movie even better. Good for Black!

In researching a little background material for writing this review, I learned that Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang received a standing ovation when it premiered at last year's Cannes Film Festival. I'm not all that surprised. My girlfriend and I laughed so hard we had to rewind the movie on more than a few occasions to catch things we subsequently missed; we actually clapped at some scenes during the movie; we both jumped and shouted a couple of times; and we both raved about it the minute it was over to such an extent that we were seriously tempted to watch it again right then and there (only time constraints prohibited us from doing so).

Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang may be the best movie you've never heard of — or at least not heard enough about. Buy it, rent it, or borrow it, but if you like movies, for heaven's sake, see it. As you likely know, I don't give top marks to very many movies. But this one deserves it and then some.

FAMILY SUITABILITY: Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang is rated R for "language, violence, sexuality and nudity." The humor is also very adult. (How many children are going to get the pun that is "Gay Perry" anyway?) I can't recommend the movie for children under the age of, say, 16 or so. But for those adults with intelligence combined with a black sense of humor, Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang will be a real highlight of your movie watching year, and I can't recommend it highly enough.

Lady Liberty, a senior writer for ESR, is a graphic designer and pro-freedom activist currently residing in the Midwest. More of her writings and other political and educational information is available on her web site, Lady Liberty's Constitution Clearing House, at http://www.ladylibrty.com. E-mail Lady Liberty at ladylibrty@ladylibrty.com.





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