Either I’m getting soft in the heart or I’m getting long in the tooth. Probably both. Anyway, I’m getting used to Keanu Reeves. He can’t act, but his blank-blackboard expressions and his narcoleptic demeanor while mumbling lines in his sleep have become as so-what routine as Madonna’s push-ahead self-promotion. And speaking of routine, his shared billing with the shoulder-shrugging non-acting of Sandra Bullock in a preposterous slice of metaphysical mumbo-jumbo called The Lake House brings “So what?” to new depths of definition. No thesaurus can provide a synonym for this kind of silliness.
In the winter of 2006, Dr. Kate Forster (Ms. Bullock) finishes her residency, leaves her beloved Illinois lake house and moves to an important job in a major Chicago hospital. Back at the tranquil sanctuary she left behind, the new occupant is budding architect Alex Wyler (Mr. Reeves), who finds a note asking that he forward the mail to her new address. He goes to the city to deliver it, but there’s nothing there but a construction site. In the odd exchange of letters that follows, the postmarks on his envelopes are two years old. They fall in love. They have the same dog, a female mutt called Jack, who plays chess with her paws and likes being read to from the works of Dostoevsky. (I do not lie. Who could make these things up?)
But as the movie drags on, it becomes clear that either he’s living in the past while she’s living in the future, or one of them doesn’t exist at all. When they first meet, it may be 2004. They make a date to meet on Valentine’s Day in 2006, but while she’s sitting on a bench in front of the hospital, he may or may not be the man who gets killed in a trucking accident. Wafting between whimsical and lugubriously romantic, the movie finally reaches the assigned day of the appointed year in time for a happy ending at—you guessed it—the bizarre lake house with the mailbox that raises its own flag and delivers its own mail without the aid of a postman. Excuse me, but none of this makes any kind of logical sense. I mean, if they are living two years apart and he finally meets the girl of his dreams on Valentine’s Day, 2006, wouldn’t the day for her really be Valentine’s Day, 2008? And if he’s the man struck dead in front of the hospital, what is he doing at the lake house two years later in the first place?
Obviously aimed at a youth market with no perception, The Lake House is a potboiler about meeting the right person in the wrong time and space and not giving up until time stops forever. But for anyone with a bit of life experience, the pieces of the puzzle don’t fit together to form a coherent or satisfying narrative, and all you’re left with is a big, dumb “Huh?”
Like most bad movies today, the real actors are the ones who fill the supporting slots. The marvelous and enchanting Iranian actress Shohreh Aghdashloo, who made a powerful impact as Ben Kingsley’s tragic wife in House of Sand and Fog, plays a wise and sympathetic doctor colleague that I cared more about than Ms. Bullock. Dylan Walsh, the impossibly handsome star of TV’s controversial series Nip/Tuck, plays the sexy boyfriend that Ms. Bullock incomprehensibly sacrifices for Mr. Reeves. And Christopher Plummer delivers a long, pointless lecture on the relationship between architecture and the nature that reflects it, which explains why the structures in Barcelona are different from the buildings in Tokyo. The writer is David Auburn, who won the Pulitzer for his play Proof, but this speech seems to belong to another movie, like almost everything else in the movie, including the limp direction by Argentina’s Alejandro Agresti. In their first collaboration since the 1994 action hit Speed, the Bullock-Reeves team has learned nothing. She can act, but she rarely appears in anything worth acting in. Like Bill Murray, he always appears to be waking from a nap—or looking for a cozy cot to catch one.
If satire is the thing that closes on Saturday night, then political satire is usually doomed to close one night earlier. In the case of a pretentious monstrosity called Land of the Blind, it’s a miracle it ever opened at all. If this is the winner of the 2001 Motion Picture Arts and Sciences screenwriting competition, one can only assume the judges locked in their Hollywood hotel rooms with scoring pencils were sniffing something besides room service.
An admirable cast headed by Ralph Fiennes and Donald Sutherland trash their talents big time in this futuristic political drivel about dictators, terrorists and corruption in an unnamed country with overloaded similarities and not-so-subtle references to Iraq, Chile, Nazi Germany and the good old U.S. of A. For 20 years, the insane son and heir of a President-for-Life who condemned all dissenters to the gallows has become a dictator even more vicious, brutal and evil than his father. Generalissimo Maximillian II, known as “Junior,” specializes in murder, rape and torture—in addition to which, he runs the country’s film industry. (An inside joke, for as we all know, it is sometimes hard to tell the difference.) Tom Hollander ( Gosford Park) gives the most colorful performance in the movie as the mincing, pouty-mouthed Führer who conducts cabinet meetings during his bowel movements. The always-exotic Lara Flynn Boyle matches his perversions as the orgiastic First Lady, dressed like a Cher imitator in a drag revue.
For two decades, they have massacred all opponents, but now a revolution is hatching, masterminded by a political prisoner named Thorne (Sutherland), a liberal intellectual sentenced to 13 years for writing a play critical of the dictatorship, and head of the underground movement called “Citizens for Justice and Democracy.” While he writes revolutionary slogans on the walls of his cell with his own excrement, an idealistic guard named Joe (Fiennes) can’t resist his philosophy, let alone the smell. Ignoring Junior’s savage threats, Joe springs Thorne and organizes the assassination of the dictator and his wife while they are crawling around naked on all fours, oinking like pigs.
Thorne becomes the new liberation leader, and for his brave heroics in guiding him to power, Joe becomes his reluctant poster boy for democracy, although with the new vegetarian laws, book burnings and martyrs hanging from every rooftop, Joe sees through the sham and turns cynical, suspecting Thorne of becoming the same kind of fiend as the one he just dethroned. Barristers, attorneys, teachers, religious leaders and other loyal supporters of the new regime are shipped to “re-education classes” that are nothing more than New Age concentration camps. After refusing to sign a loyalty oath, Joe ends up locked in the same kind of prison-cell predicament Thorne was in when they first met. Having outlived his usefulness as a political puppet, he enrages his mentor by becoming a counterrevolutionary. After Thorne is silently executed in a bathtub by one of his deluded female followers (Marat stabbed by Charlotte Corday), it is clear that the time has come for a new leader. You don’t have be a political-science major to figure out who the next dictator will be.
Subtle as a hydrogen bomb, the messages in Land of the Blind are (Excelsior!) threefold: Change can only come about through a coup d’état of blood and gore; every new society succeeds by violently annihilating all traces of the old one; and after every revolution, the idealists end up ruled by another criminal tyranny worse than the one they had before. (For starters, see Cuba, Afghanistan, Russia and North Korea.)
How this naïve script by a former soldier in Iraq and nightclub doorman named Robert Edwards ever won a literary contest is a head-scratcher for the muses. Sample dialogue: “Show me a hero and I’ll show you a tragedy”; “If I catch you talking to that prisoner again, I’ll beat you like a red-headed stepchild, and skull-fuck your corpse!” Worse yet, he is also the director. Among the multitude of lessons he must learn if his career moves forward are the following: how to frame a shot, how to control actors from eating the sets, and where to place the camera in order to get more than two people in the same set-up. Everything else about Land of the Blind is as big a mystery to me as crib death.