In Hollywood lately, it seems that romance always comes by way of a gimmick: This summer alone brings us the meeting between New York's luckiest woman and the unluckiest man (Just My Luck), Adam Sandler seducing a love interest via remote control (Click), and a spurned lover who turns out to have special powers (My Super Ex-Girlfriend). Based on the Korean film Il Mare, The Lake House is tethered to a gimmick, too, following the fantastical relationship between two people living two years apart from each other. And yet it's the rare case where the gimmick actually serves to make the film more romantic instead of more remote, because the forced distance between lovers is always more affecting than when that distance is bridged. Wong Kar-Wai could have made a great movie out of this premise—and did, to some extent, with 2046—but even with a low-wattage pair like Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock, the concept is too touching to deny.

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Together for the first time since Speed, Reeves and Bullock don't share much screen time under these unusual circumstances, but they have an instant, relaxed chemistry that allows this affair to flourish sight unseen. The action centers on a secluded lake house currently occupied by Reeves, a Chicago developer whose connection to the place is complicated by his relationship to a brilliant but distant father (Christopher Plummer) who designed it. Bullock plays the previous tenant, a lonely doctor who has given up this tranquil spot for a high-rise condo. After moving in, Reeves responds to a note Bullock left to the incoming tenant, beginning an increasingly intimate correspondence that's made stranger by the discovery that Bullock lives exactly two years in the future. Will the space-time continuum bend enough for them to finally meet?

Elegantly scripted by Pulitzer Prize-winner David Auburn, The Lake House never establishes any clear rules about how and when these strands of time can intertwine, but it succeeds at forging a bond between people who only know each other on the page. Trapped in the ultimate long-distance relationship, they have to find creative ways to reach each other, through sweet turns-of-phrase or romantic gestures that will pay off in the future, like Reeves leaving Bullock a note in graffiti or planting a tree outside her urban complex. Though Alejandro Agresti's glossy direction drains some passion from the story—the ending, too, is a disappointing cheat—The Lake House stands out as a canny piece of counter-programming, a high-concept summer movie with feeling.