Sandra Bullock

The Lake House (2006, Alejandro Agresti)

There may be a pseudo-sly Speed reference in The Lake House, which reunites stars Sandra Bullock and Keanu Reeves, but it’s a spoiler. Unfortunately it is not Bullock’s Speed 2 co-star Jason Patric as her wet towel boyfriend (Patric infamously replaced Reeves in the sequel). Instead, Dylan Walsh is the wet towel boyfriend. His performance is just as boring as the exceptionally thin role is written.

And it also may not be a Speed nod because it would show some personality from the filmmakers and they truly have none.

Lake House is not an action movie about a bus. Instead, it’s a romantic drama involving a magic mailbox and seemingly magic dog. Bullock is a newly-out-of-residency Chicago doctor who lives in the “present” or 2006. We soon find out Reeves is in 2004. They have lived in the same house at different times; a stilt house on a lake somewhere near Madison, Wisconsin. The house is ostensibly a dump—no one lives on the lake, someone exclaims because Lake House also has magic realistic values—even though it’s gorgeous and designed by world renowned architect Christopher Plummer, who is also Reeves’s father. Only we don’t find out about the history of the house until almost the third act. And, as with many things in David Auburn’s shockingly pedestrian script, stops being important immediately following it getting introduced in exposition. Everything in Lake House is disposable. Including a bunch of logic in the third act.

First act is nearly romantic comedy with Bullock crying at work (because she cares so much about her patients but, thanks to Auburn’s lousy sense of pacing, probably is just mopey because she dumped Walsh at some point in the recent past) and Reeves trying to get his life back together after moving back to the area after four years away. He makes housing developments instead of being a fancy architect like dad Plummer and younger brother Ebon Moss-Bachrach (who is somehow even less present than Walsh). He wants to fix the stilt house, which makes sense because it’s where he grew up and Plummer—who’s a jerk, but not a monster—verbally and emotionally abused Reeves, Moss-Bachrach, and their mother. Then Bullock and Reeves find out the mailbox at the house is magic and they can write to each other through time.

Cue up the endless terrible letters Reeves and Bullock write to one another as voiceovers. At least when they’re reading each other’s letters, there’s some acting to it. When they’re just thinking their letters and having back and forth conversations—Bullock has to drive two hours and twenty minutes—in the best traffic—to get from new home Chicago back to the house in Madison. Or maybe they’re standing at the mailbox and writing back to each other, which kind of gets explored—the film has zero interest in the time travel aspect of the story; Auburn’s script doesn’t have a single neat time travel-related moment. The only reason it gets away with the romantic comedy thing is because the film introduces split screen to show Bullock and Reeves being separately charming. By the end the split screen is still occasionally in use, but never well-utilized because Agresti’s direction is so boring.

Second act is then Reeves and Bullock exploring the time travel mailbox and falling into a chemistry-free long distance love affair. Because eventually Reeves starts stalking Bullock in the past, when she’s got super-long hair and is entirely dependent on lawyer boyfriend Walsh who doesn’t have any reason to want a girlfriend in his yuppie lifestyle. Should’ve gotten Jason Patric.

Anyway.

Second act is also all the revelations about Reeves’s past with Plummer. The worse the revelation gets, more the Reeves tries to bond with Plummer. It’s inexplicable behavior. The only thing Auburn seems to care about in the screenplay is the architecture monologues from Reeves, Plummer, and Moss-Bachrach. The monologues are bad, but at least they’re distinct. And Plummer can make it seem legit instead of terrible. Moss-Bachrach’s the worst, Reeves is nearly middling. Agresti’s inability to direct conversations hurts with the monologues. Alejandro Brodersohn and Lynzee Klingman’s editing is choppy, but it seems like it’s Agresti’s composition more than anything else. He’s got no rhythm to the scenes. Occasionally, when Bullock or Reeves is charming enough you wish the movie were better, you wonder how a better script might have entirely changed things.

But then Agresti does something weird and bad—like his extreme long shots for conversations—and you realize it’s just the production. It’s broken in too many ways.

Bullock’s character is bad. She doesn’t get the “maybe reunite with Walsh” storyline until into the second act and it entirely flushes her doctor storyline potential. Her mom (Willeke van Ammelrooy) is around for occasional scenes, but—like Moss-Bachrach with Reeves—there’s never any surprise at the magic mail box. It’s totally normal stuff. Pedestrian like everything else about Lake House.

Bullock’s performance is probably the best anyone could do. Maybe ditto Reeves? The movie skips the motivation and development scenes where he nice guy stalks Bullock in the past and possibly jeopardizes destroying the entire timeline. Not really because Auburn never addresses any of the time travel elements and explains away Bullock seeing Reeves multiple times and having no idea she’s seen him before because she forgot what the guy she ran off to San Francisco with when she was sixteen to become a singer. You’d trust someone with that terrible a memory to be your doctor.

Okay.

Terrible part. And Shohreh Aghdashloo somehow gets an even worse part as Bullock’s new boss.

Reeves is… mostly harmless. It’s totally his movie, which is bad since his reconciliation arc with Plummer is even worse than Bullock and Walsh rekindling. But the part isn’t as bad as Bullock’s.

Technically, I suppose Alar Kivilo’s photography is fine. The editing’s bad, the directing’s bad, the script’s bad, Nathan Crowley’s production design (and Agresti’s shot compositions of it) is bad. Rachel Portman’s score could be a lot worse. The soundtrack’s really bland stuff, including a Paul McCartney song from 2005 playing in 2004 because it seems like there should be a Beatles song at that moment—the dialogue makes the song sound like a Golden Oldie too. Lake House is full of really dumb gaffs. Like, an obvious staircase where there shouldn’t be one. Or Reeves not being able to figure out his dog is a girl until Bullock tells him she’s a girl. The dog. Reeves knows Bullock is a girl because he stalks her.

Bad costume design too. Like silly.

Still, until the third act, there’s at least the potential for a good ending. Then there’s not and it’s almost a relief because it’s so lacking in ambition (as well as being dumb as far as the narrative’s internal logic goes). But it’s still a bad ending. The Lake House takes place over four years and ninety-nine minutes. It’s not abjectly terrible or anything, but it’s an entire waste of time.

Another dumb thing—well, two so real quick—The Lake House title doesn’t mean jack for Bullock and Agresti’s deathly afraid of directing in the lake house. He avoids it at all costs. It’s constantly aggravating.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Alejandro Agresti; screenplay by David Auburn, based on a film written by Kim Eun-Jeong and Yeo Ji-na; director of photography, Alar Kivilo; edited by Alejandro Brodersohn and Lynzee Klingman; music by Rachel Portman; production designer, Nathan Crowley; produced by Doug Davison and Roy Lee; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Keanu Reeves (Alex), Sandra Bullock (Kate), Dylan Walsh (Morgan), Ebon Moss-Bachrach (Henry), Shohreh Aghdashloo (Anna), Lynn Collins (Mona), Willeke van Ammelrooy (Kate’s Mother), and Christopher Plummer (Alex’s Father).


The Heat (2013, Paul Feig), the unrated cut

I’m trying to imagine The Heat without Melissa McCarthy. Even though she gets second billing–the film opens introducing Sandra Bullock’s character, a superior FBI agent with no personal skills (and an odd klutziness the film never actually deals with)–McCarthy’s the only reason to watch the film and she’s the only consistently good thing in it.

Bullock ends up okay. She’s got a character arc, McCarthy doesn’t. But Bullock basically just stops being annoying and then she’s better. Inexplicably, for the postscripts, the film returns her more to the annoying side, which sort of closes things poorly.

Except McCarthy’s there to save it.

There’s a plot involving a mystery drug dealer and the most unlikely FBI operation on film, then some stuff with McCarthy’s ex-con brother (a downtrodden Michael Rapaport). Mostly it’s about McCarthy being funny, being obscene, making fun of Bullock in funny, obscene ways. Then, once they bond, it’s about them making fun of other people. There’s not much of an actual plot. There’s a really odd part where there’s a useless phone bugging.

The humor’s constant and Feig does a fine job directing the large cast. There’s a lot of thankless appearances. Between the more recognizable supporting cast members–Marlon Wayans, Jane Curtin, Thomas F. Wilson–only Wilson gets a good laugh. Curtin should, but she’s too underutilized. Her casting seems like an afterthought. Wayans, who’s good, has nothing to do.

It’s a fine time and an excellent vehicle for McCarthy. The rest doesn’t matter.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Paul Feig; written by Katie Dippold; director of photography, Robert D. Yeoman; edited by Jay Deuby and Brent White; music by Michael Andrews; production designer, Jefferson Sage; produced by Peter Chernin and Jenno Topping; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Sandra Bullock (Ashburn), Melissa McCarthy (Mullins), Demian Bichir (Hale), Marlon Wayans (Levy), Michael Rapaport (Jason Mullins), Jane Curtin (Mrs. Mullins), Spoken Reasons (Rojas), Dan Bakkedahl (Craig), Taran Killam (Adam), Michael McDonald (Julian) and Thomas F. Wilson (Captain Woods).


Murder by Numbers (2002, Barbet Schroeder)

Besides being bewildered at how low Barbet Schroeder’s fortunes have sunk for him to be involved with this film and seeing Ryan Gosling in an early role, all Murder by Numbers offers is a look at Sandra Bullock’s seemingly limitless egomania.

Bullock’s police detective isn’t just so beautiful even high schooler Gosling can’t resist her, neither can her coworkers (Numbers believes in empowerment through promiscuity), she’s also smarter than any of the other cops and she has Oprah-like epiphanies at all the right moments.

But Numbers isn’t really about Bullock and her overcompensating issues, it’s supposed to be about Gosling and co-star Michael Pitt being modern day Leopold and Loebs. Sadly, since their very boring story is juxtaposed against Bullock’s equally boring (and even worse) story, Numbers is a disaster.

About the only good performance in the movie is Chris Penn playing a seedy high school janitor. It’s not a stretch for Penn.

Bullock is shockingly bad. One has to wonder why she’s trying for an East Coast tough girl accent in coastal California, though one could ask the same about Gosling. Though he seems to be going for a tough guy, not girl.

Pitt’s terrible. Gosling’s terrible. Ben Chaplin, as Bullock’s new partner who falls madly in love with her because she’s so wonderful, he’s awful too. R.D. Call is laughable as her boss.

While Tony Gayton’s script is garbage, Schroeder doesn’t even try with it. He could’ve at least tried.

Bullock and her Numbers are execrable.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Barbet Schroeder; written by Tony Gayton; director of photography, Luciano Tovoli; edited by Lee Percy; music by Clint Mansell; production designer, Stuart Wurtzel; produced by Richard Crystal, Schroeder and Susan Hoffman; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Sandra Bullock (Cassie Mayweather), Ben Chaplin (Sam Kennedy), Ryan Gosling (Richard Haywood), Michael Pitt (Justin Pendleton), Agnes Bruckner (Lisa Mills), R.D. Call (Captain Rod Cody), Tom Verica (Asst. D.A. Al Swanson) and Chris Penn (Ray Feathers).


Love Potion No. 9 (1992, Dale Launer)

I wonder if there’s not a better version of Love Potion No. 9 out there somewhere. The film only runs ninety minutes and feels anorexic. Launer’s writing–even his narration for Tate Donovan–has these moments of incredible strength. It’s so strong, in fact, it and Donovan make Love Potion a fine diversion.

Well, those aspects and Mary Mara’s repugnant call girl who is hilarious in a wicked stepsister sort of way.

Launer’s script has its issues–characters appear and disappear on a whim, as the film decides to focus on Donovan almost exclusively about halfway through. Before, it’s fairly evenly distributed between he and Sandra Bullock. Bullock is the film’s biggest problem. She’s absolutely awful in the second half, when she’s talking anyway. She has this whole sequence where she’s pretending to be mute so no man falls in love with her (the titular love potion affects the vocal cords) and she’s rather charming. Of course, it’s the exact same performance she’s been giving in the twenty years since this film.

But once she does start talking, her character becomes third tier in the story and Launer can’t figure out how to write the scenes. In the first half, he’s got a solid concept. In the second, he’s got a good performance from Donovan and Mara.

It’s really shouldn’t be enough… but it succeeds.

The good memories (from the first half) of Dylan Baker and Rebecca Staab go a long way.

And having Anne Bancroft around never hurt anyone.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Written, produced and directed by Dale Launer; director of photography, William Wages; edited by Suzanne Pettit; music by Jed Leiber; production designer, Linda Pearl; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Tate Donovan (Paul Matthews), Sandra Bullock (Diane Farrow), Mary Mara (Marisa), Dale Midkiff (Gary Logan), Hillary B. Smith (Sally), Anne Bancroft (Madame Ruth), Dylan Baker (Prince Geoffrey), Blake Clark (Motorcycle Cop), Bruce McCarty (Jeff), Rebecca Staab (Cheryl) and Adrian Paul (Enrico Pazzoli).


Demolition Man (1993, Marco Brambilla)

Umm. Yeah. Where to start with Demolition Man. Stallone’s really personable in it. It might be his most personable, because the viewer automatically identifies with him as the modern (mostly modern) guy in the strange future.

The real star is Sandra Bullock, whose performance is far from perfect and her character is poorly written, but she’s fun and cute, which is what Sandra Bullock is supposed to be. She’s likable and genial.

Wesley Snipes is bad. He looks good with the blond hair and the contacts, but he doesn’t have enough personality (frighteningly, he’s too much of an actor) to go wild as needed. Also, the script seems to be scared to mention he’s black, which is interesting.

The direction is okay. The real problem is the editing. I’ve never seen such bad editing from Stuart Baird before. Maybe the direction isn’t okay, the composition is okay and the coverage is awful.

Oh, it did shoot in Los Angeles? I figured it was a runaway production, which would explain the lousy production values. The sets are confined and pseudo-grand, like Batman and Robin, which is fine, since Elliot Goldenthal’s score is the same as his Batman scores.

Some of the film feels very solid. Well, maybe only in hindsight. It’s the kind of movie you watch in the middle of the night and fall asleep during and only are awake for the good parts so you think it’s better than it turns out to be on a complete viewing.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Marco Brambilla; screenplay by Daniel Waters, Robert Reneau and Peter M. Lenkov, based on a story by Lenkov and Reneau; director of photography, Alex Thomson; edited by Stuart Baird; music by Elliot Goldenthal; production designer, David L. Snyder; produced by Joel Silver, Michael Levy and Howard Kazanjian; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Sylvester Stallone (John Spartan), Wesley Snipes (Simon Phoenix), Sandra Bullock (Lt. Lenina Huxley), Nigel Hawthorne (Dr. Raymond Cocteau), Benjamin Bratt (Alfredo Garcia), Bob Gunton (Chief George Earle), Glenn Shadix (Associate Bob), Denis Leary (Edgar Friendly) and Steve Kahan (Captain Healy).


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