Happy birthday, Keanu Reeves

Celebrate with his best worst movie, "The Lake House"

Happy birthday, Keanu Reeves
My wife would leave me for this man and so would yours.

Happy birthday, Keanu Reeves! The man is 57 today (whoa) and remains one of our most elusive performers, much loved offscreen and eerily mutable on. He’s been a stoner goofball, an action hero, the savior of the human race, a dog-loving killing machine, an 18th-century French chevalier, a DEA surfer dude, a gay street hustler, an alien overlord, and — oh, yes — the Buddha.

This is what they call range. And yet in all those roles, he’s indisputably the same guy: slightly distracted, a little unearthly, chill on an almost molecular level. This is what they call stardom.

I choose to celebrate this solemn occasion with a re-watch of what may not be Reeves’ best movie but is high on my list of guilty pleasures: the endearingly preposterous time-travel romance, “The Lake House” (2006, available for rental on Amazon, Google Play, YouTube, and elsewhere). Yes, the movie in which Reeves and Sandra Bullock play Alex and Kate, Chicago lonely hearts living two years apart, who nevertheless fall in love via  letters they send each other through a magic mailbox. He’s in 2004 and she’s in 2006 but their love is, like, eternal.

Mr. Postman, look and see, is there a letter in your bag for me?

No, it doesn’t make one goddamn bit of sense, and that’s what’s great about it. I have a soft spot for movie romances that play loosey-goosey with the time-space continuum — “The Time-Traveler’s Wife” (2009) through “Somewhere in Time” (1980) all the way back to 1935’s “Peter Ibbetson” — and “The Lake House” is the one that most exuberantly throws logic and scientific explanation into the compost bin and just says the hell with it. I jotted down my thoughts while I was watching the movie this time, and never have my notes been so festooned with “???”s and “!!!”s and “?!?$@!”s. How does the cute movie dog belong to Alex in 2004 and Kate in 2006? Why does it answer to “Jack” in 2004 when Kate hasn’t named him that until two years later? Why do the leads “speak” their letters to the air as if they were having conversations? If Kate actually did share a snog with Alex at that 2004 house-party, wouldn’t she recognize him in 2006 when [redacted for spoiler reasons]? Wait, when did Kate actually live in the Lake House if she moved in after Alex but we never see that happen? Trying to figure out the time-loop math of this movie is like trying to solve quadratic equations with a glitter pen.

Deliver de letter, de sooner de better

But I wouldn’t keep coming back if this were just a gauzy, giggly hate-watch. The awful truth is that “The Lake House” works. In spite of its chowderheaded absurdity — or because of it — the movie works. The casting is key: I’ve always felt Reeves and Bullock paired well together, here and in “Speed,” visually and in their easy-going onscreen personas. They’re like the black Labs of movie stars, friendly and a little lumbering, and they dog-trot through this nonsense — a remake of a South Korean film that looks to be even crazier — with professionalism, commitment, and maybe a subtly conveyed desire to be somewhere else.

“The Lake House” brings on Christopher Plummer as Alex’s emotionally abusive dad and doubles down on the mooniness with a couple of Nick Drake songs on the soundtrack (it was the mid-2000s, everyone was doing it), and it’s the shamelessness of the emotional manipulation along with the sheer nuttiness of the premise that makes this perhaps the most lovably misshapen entry in the entire Reeves filmography. Happy birthday, sir, and with any luck you’ll never have to make another movie like this one. But until you do, this is the one I’ll gladly watch.

What’s your favorite Keanu Reeves movie? No, it doesn’t have to be one of the respectable ones.

(This edition of Ty Burr’s Watch List is dedicated to Meredith Goldstein.)

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