Credit where credit is due, The Lake House certainly can't be faulted for lack of narrative ambition. What it can and should be faulted for is being utterly fucking insane. There's just no other way to put it.

The plot...but why do I even bring up the plot? I am not entirely certain that I know what it contains. The film concerns Kate (Sandra Bullock), who in April 2006 leaves a glass house built on a lake where she has apparently lived for some time, leaving behind a note for the future tenant to forward her mail. In April 2004, Alex (Keanu Reeves) comes to the same house, long abandoned, apparently to restore it. He finds Kate's letter. In 2006, a trauma sends Kate back to the lake house, where she finds Alex's response to her letter. An epistolary romance begins.

In the entire script, just about the only element I don't find helplessly implausible is the central concept of a time-traveling mailbox. Magical realism isn't my favorite genre by a long shot, but I'm willing to suspend my disbelief. But every other moment of plot is a contrivance; why is there such a convoluted motivation for returning Kate to the lake house? Why is the event that drives her back so hackneyed, and are we actually supposed to be surprised by the reveal at the end explaining what happened? Why is the same dog present in both 2004 and 2006, and is it supposed to be able to see across time?

These questions are all raised in the first ten minutes. The end, when Kate attempts to alter the past by informing Alex of an event that occurs in his future, relies on such a chain of coincidences and contrived moments as to beg the question, could any rational human being find this remotely credible? And this entire mess could be short-circuited if Kate did some digging in the first weeks of her relationship with Alex, digging that any of us would do immediately in her situation (you are falling in love with somebody who lives two years ago. Do you a) Google him; b) make no effort whatsoever to learn anything about him in the present day? If you chose b), congratulations, you are Sandra Bullock in The Lake House). The whole thing is idiotic, and it even waves its hand and brags about being idiotic; there are a couple of points in the story where the characters mull over getting together, but just kind of...don't try.

Despite its complete incoherence as a narrative, there are some successful moments as romance. Bullock has been improving as an actress of late, and she's entirely convincing here. I believe in every moment that she is actually a woman in love, and that's important - the story is already ragged, and it would collapse entirely if the actors couldn't convince us of their emotions.

Which brings us to Keanu. He is completely incapable of playing this role - his eyes are like black pits from which no human emotion may emanate. The mysterious dog who wanders in and out of the plot has more objectively sympathetic expressions than Reeves does. The one scene where he meets Kate in his present, her past (and therefore, he is responsible for carrying both sides of the relationship) is tremendously flat. And his inability to mouth the often-cumbersome dialogue is perhaps the most alienating part of the film.

He is simply given too much to do; in addition to the love plot, he's hung with a ridiculously tangential and padded subplot about his relationship with his architect daddy (Christopher Plummer) who built the lake house, and is disappointed in his architect son's willingness to build McMansions. (Aside: the scene where father and son reunite after four years' estrangement plays in every possible way like the meeting of two lovers. I do not know if I should blame the script or the actors).

The dialogue, as I noted, is no help to the actors. The screenplay is by David Auburn, he of the magnificent play Proof, and I almost refuse to believe he is capable of such a disaster as this. In particular, I object to the film's reliance on actual conversations between the lovers, who are theoretically communicating over at least a brief chronological remove (their walk through Chicago, in which they still converse, is an especial atrocity against writing). He has written better before and he shall write better again.

Cinematically, the film is just a giant nothing. There is nothing remotely exceptional about the cinematography for good or ill, although there are some camera movements that make very little sense (chiefly: a 360 degree pan at about four times the speed such a movement should be executed, and The Worst Zoom of the Decade, in which, as God is my witness, you can see the camera bob when the operator starts the zoom). There's much lovely Chicago photography, but it's very touristy - the one thing I loved about The Break-Up was its willingness to show us street-level Chicago, this film just looks like a collection of postcards of the Loop.

A final word, pointless snarking I have no doubt, about geography. No, not My Best Friend's Wedding-style "the best way to get from the airport to the Loop is south on Lake Shore"; actual regional geography. It's apparent that the lake house is just a bit north of the city, on the North Shore, and I can believe that sort of house would exist in Wilmette, or Winnetka, or Kenilworth; but it is obvious that it's not on Lake Michigan. And there are not other lakes in that area. If anything, I'd guess that it takes place in south central Wisconsin, but it can't be: Keanu makes too many quick trips to the city, while in 2004 Kate takes the train from Chicago to Madison, so this isn't some alternate world where those cities are just a short jaunt away (in fact, it's not just the train, it's the goddamn Metra she takes to Madison. Chicago natives are welcome for that moment of absurdist humor). Sure, it's just local-boy bitching, but the film puts a lot of stress on location, and I see no shame in pointing out that by its own rules, the lake house can't exist.