Kate & Leopold

          Christmas time is when the studios bring out their big guns in the
  form of heavy, dramatic movies that are, for want of a better term,
  "Oscar bait." Every so often, though, a motion picture company will try
  to counterprogram; in 2001, it was Miramax's turn. In addition to its more
  prestige items like
PINERO, IRIS and THE SHIPPING NEWS, the studio
  released
KATE & LEOPOLD, a charming time-travel romantic comedy.
  Think of it as a sorbet to cleanse the palate between the more meaty fare.

          
KATE & LEOPOLD presents an intriguing mix of sci-fi, comedy and,
  most especially, romance. If you give yourself over to the film and allow
  yourself to be swept along in the story, it serves as a great time. Only
  later when you start to really think about all that's unfolded on screen
  do you realize that the plot doesn't hang together. (The script is credited
  to director James Mangold and Steve Rogers.)

          The premise goes something like this: Stuart (Liev Schreiber), a
  21st-century Manhattan schlub with an interest in time travel
  has discovered a portal that allows him to travel back to 19th-century
  New York. While on his visit, he surreptitiously takes photographs
  and shadows Leopold, the Duke of Albany (Hugh Jackman), a
  progressive-thinking inventor and man of science. When Leopold spots
  Stuart at a fancy dress ball (at which Leopold is to announce his choice
  of a brides) and gives chase, the pair somehow become entangled and
  end up back in modern times.

          We're then introduced to Kate McKay (Meg Ryan), a savvy market
  researcher who has adopted a brittle and very unfeminine manner in
  an effort to succeed in the corporate world. She also is the ex-girlfriend
  of Stuart, who, in one of those cutesy, only in the movies situations,
  happens to live in the apartment directly above her former boyfriend.
  When Kate discovers the presence of Leopold, she is nonplused.
  Because Leopold supposedly invented the elevator, all the elevators
  in the city suddenly have stopped working. As a result, Stuart suffers
  a freak accident that has him plummeting down an empty shaft and
  suffering injuries requiring hospitalization. That leaves Leopold on his
  own, giving him free rein to become better acquainted with Kate and
  her out-of-work actor brother Charlie (Breckin Meyer). This being a
  romantic comedy, it isn't long before Kate and Leopold discover a
  mutual attraction. Thus, the major dilemma is raised. How can they
  be together if he's from 1876 and she's from 2001? It doesn't require
  being a genius to figure out that these two are somehow going
  to end up together.

          As noted, there are a lot of sloppy details and missed opportunities.
  For a man completely out of his element, Leopold adjusts quite quickly
  and very well to the helter-skelter tenor of contemporary city life. Still,
  as played with unending charm and massive charisma by Hugh Jackman,
  Leopold comes completely to life. While he cut a strong figure as
  Wolverine in
X-MEN, Jackman has never really had to carry a movie
  until this one and carry it he does. He is the epitome of the courteous
  male, a fairy-tale prince come fully to life. Whether dispensing advice
  on how to woo a woman to the inept Charlie or plying his own wares
  on Kate, Jackman makes Leopold completely believable. He dominates
  every scene he is in and his charisma and charm help to paper over the
  thin plot lines.

          Meg Ryan has played versions of Kate in other films, and
  unfortunately, has done it better. In her hands, Kate isn't always
  likable, and that's a slight drawback in a romantic fantasy. You want
  to root for the couple to come together, not hope that someone better
  comes along for him. Indeed, she almost seems better suited for her
  shifty, snarky boss (Bradley Whitford) than for Leopold.

          While some rather fine actors like Paxton Whitehead, Philip Bosco,
  Spalding Gray and Natasha Lyonne briefly appear in supporting roles,
  none gets much of a chance to make an impression. Schreiber is good,
  but he disappears for two-thirds of the film and serves more as a plot
  device -- the means to bring the title characters together. Only
  Breckin Meyer as Charlie gets to shine, and he and Jackman form a
  nice rapport while he and Ryan make one accept that they could be
  related, although they look nothing like siblings.

          Mangold handling his first light comedy manages to keep things
  moving relatively steadily and his use of digital projections to create
  19th-century New York (including a view of the Brooklyn Bridge under
  construction) is impressive. Special kudos to director of photography
  Stuart Dryburgh, production designer Mark Friedberg and composer
  Rolfe Kent.

          
KATE & LEOPOLD strives to be a spin on the popular
  time-travel novel
Time and Again by combining elements of fantasy
  and romance. While it serves as a pleasant date flick, it may be
  remembered as the movie that made a real movie star out of
  Hugh Jackman, and that in and of itself wouldn't be a bad thing.


                          Rating:                B -
                          MPAA Rating:       PG-13
                          Running time:      121 mins.
© 2006 by C. E. Murphy. All Rights Reserved.