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Kate and Leopold

  kate and leopold
Hugh Grant entices Meg Ryan with his puffy shirt.

© 2001, Miramax
All Rights Reserved

Kate McKay (Meg Ryan) is an on-the-go executive at a marketing agency who is trying to get over the loss of her relationship with Stuart (Liev Schreiber). What Kate doesn't know is that Stuart has discovered a portal in time in which he can go back and spy on his ancestors. During one such journey, Stuart accidentally brings back a Duke named Leopold (Hugh Jackman) from the year 1876. Leopold is both cautious and curious of his new surroundings, and soon, with the help of Kate's brother Charlie (Breckin Meyer), begins to find his way around this strange new world. Charming the ladies with his chivalry and teaching the men about courtesy, Leopold soon finds his soulmate in Kate. Complications arise when Stuart becomes adamant about Leopold returning to his era, thus keeping the precious balance of time rock steady.

"Kate And Leopold" (IMDb listing) is light as air. The kind of fluffy cinema that packs them in, yet stays under the cultural radar. A "chick flick," if you will (though I loathe that term). It's harmless stuff, yet would you believe that "Leopold" was brought to the screen by the same man who directed "Cop Land" and "Girl, Interrupted?" Yes, James Mangold takes an artistic step backwards, yet a financial step forwards with this mainstream romantic comedy. And it comes as little shock that he has trouble maintaining just the right pitch for the film. A mixture of old-fashioned romance, some hearty fish-out-of-water chuckles, and a dash of time-traveling gobbledygook that would make Austin Powers's eyes cross again, "Kate And Leopold" has a lot of storylines on its plate, yet not the right leader to see it through. Mangold just isn't ready for this type of cinema. Having already made a touching romance with his heartbreaking 1995 film "Heavy," Mangold doesn't seem quite at home with the happy endings and huge stars of "Leopold." He's trying to become a team player, attempting to give the studio and the audience what he thinks we will want, but he takes his sweet time doing it (the film runs a tedious 120 minutes). By the end of the film, "Leopold" has taken on so many tonal changes and shifts of focus that he exhausts the very things I came to enjoy about this picture.

And the exceptional aspects of "Kate And Leopold" seem to begin and end with Hugh Jackman. Assuming his first commanding romantic leading role, the former Wolverine takes the reins of this film with typical authority. He's just a good actor, and with every new film, reveals little slices of magic that will surely take him to the top of the actor heap. As the suave, yet torn Leopold, Jackman is a great counterbalance to the less pleasant moments of the story. And with Mangold's help, Jackman manages to avoid most (if not all) of the time traveling cliches (Leopold's first trip out on the town; his interaction with common household appliances) that come up. If there is any reason to see "Kate And Leopold," Hugh Jackman is certainly a convincing argument to go.

For Meg Ryan, "Leopold" is a return to the romantic comedies she is known for, and God bless her for keeping with what has worked before, but I think it's time for her to get out of this genre. Treading the very same ground that has been traveled on by this actress time and again, Ryan just barely passes inspection in the film. Her cutesy antics and fresh-from-the-salon good looks just doesn't take the audience as far as it used to. And though she shares great chemistry with Jackman, Ryan is simply too seasoned and too familiar to be fully appreciated.

Whatever quibbles I have with the acting and pacing, "Kate And Leopold" does have its moments of joviality. The trouble being that once you get to those segments, the film seems in a hurry to move on. It's a nice change of pace for Mangold and Jackman, and Ryan is as reliable as ever, but all parties concerned should go back to the dramatic realm where they've shined brightly before.

Filmfodder Grade: C

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