Kate & Leopold
review by Elias Savada, 28 December 2001

James Mangold's first excursion into romantic comedy, following his gritty, and critically successful, dramas Girl, Interrupted and Cop Land, is a semi-sweet, time-traveling, yuletide log. It may sit well on the fire for two hours, but its love-struck ashes aren't anything to keep up on the mantle, especially if you decide to dissect the pot-holed script by Mangold and co-writer Steven Rogers (Hope Floats). Meg Ryan is the cute, adorable, spunky-fresh woman that she's gift-wrapped for audiences over the last decade. Formerly opposite the likes of Billy Crystal (as Sally Albright in When Harry Met Sally), Tom Hanks (Annie Reed in Sleepless in Seattle and Kathleen Kelly in You've Got Mail), Tim Robbins (Catherine Boyd in I.Q.), and Kevin Kline (Kate in French Kiss), she's basically back as the same blond-haired, blue-eyed modern miss, again as a captivating Kiss Me Kate (of the McKays of Massapequa). This time her foil is swoon-worthy Aussie Hugh Jackman (the rugged Wolverine in X-Men and second-fiddle Stanley Jobson in Swordfish), who's shed his body hair for a more refined Victorian waistcoat and a graceful sense of bewilderment and humor.

Much like the Empire State Building was a cornerstone of Sleepless in Seattle, New York City's Brooklyn Bridge lays the foundation in Kate & Leopold, as the film commences with a sepia-tinted August 28, 1876 ceremony commemorating that structure's erection, a word that elicits a nervous sexual giggle from Stuart Besser (Liev Schreiber), a time traveler from 125 years hence. His period garb does nothing to hide the inappropriate miniature camera, ballpoint pen, and swimmer's goggles, all of which arouse the curiosity of Leopold (Jackman), the third Duke of Albany and a budding inventor. A scale model prototype of the present-day elevator indicates his scientific bent, and the fact that Leopold's manservant is named Otis suggests a comic now-you-know-who-I-named-it-after wink from the writers. This thirty-something hunk, royally ashamed of his privileged life, is also an ultra-eligible bachelor. His snooty uncle Millard (Paxton Whitehead), anxious to restore the family's drained fortune, has demanded his nephew announce his marital plans at midnight, following a damsel-bedecked birthday ball showcasing the dour female (yet abundantly wealthy) prospects available for the Duke's picking. Hmmm, sounds like it's time for the nineteenth-century K-Mart Blue Light special.

Which brings me to my first point of distraction: why does this particular time traveling drama crunch down its decisive moments to the chiming of the midnight bells? It happens twice in Kate & Leopold. Why is it that the stroke of a new day is necessary for the temporal transportation process to work? Personally I'd opt for the more believable 5:51 A.M., which happens to be the moment that Kevin Spacey's Prot makes his own intergalactic excursion in K-PAX.

Anyway, Stuart pops up at Uncle Millard's downtown soirée and Leopold chases him our the door, up the rain-drenched street, and off the bridge into the twenty-first s century, whereupon the time-traipsing differences, and the lonely-heart antics kick in. Stuart, who has unearthed a door to the past "by modern theories of weather prediction," is Kate's former boyfriend, living upstairs in their apartment building. Miss McKay is a savvy marketing exec with a lecherous boss (Bradley Whitford) and she's more than a little intrigued by the suave, chivalrous, and out-of-his-element guest, left to fend for himself in contemporary Manhattan when the city's elevators mysteriously start to malfunction and Stuart is laid up for medical and psychiatric reasons at a local hospital. One of Leopold's early dilemmas involves the Big Apple's pooper-scooper laws.

Second bone to pick. As another in a string of television series and films that highlight Macintosh computers -- I've been a Apple user for over a decade, so I tend to notice this phenomenon more than those of you using Windoze. -- it's extremely depressing when the film glorifies or sports inside jokes about these CPUs, while the script screws up the facts. Kate is exasperated in her office when her G5 isn't working properly, except that this next-generation chip hasn't yet been announced for any of Apple's product line (although I'll bet it's forthcoming at Steve Jobs' January 7 -- that's 2002 -- keynote at MacWorld. As the film's release was pushed up from February 8th, that might explains the G5 conundrum. Had the distributor stuck to its original timetable, the G5 might be in Apple Stores by now, assuming I was writing this in February, not December. Isn't time travel confusing?).

Anyway, the film ambles along with fish-out-of-water comic fanfare, and it's played lightly enough to breeze along. Director Mangold clipped a few of the more ludicrous plot elements just before the film's release, especially one about Leopold's lineage. Two historical goofs that did make the final cut involve crystal clear recollections/recitations by Leopold of La Boheme and The Pirates of Penzance, caught just before he journeyed through time. Puccini's opera was first performed in Turin on February 1, 1896, while Gilbert and Sullivan's operetta opened London's Opéra Comique on April 3, 1880. Obviously, the trip to twenty-first-century Manhattan had two local stops with ample time to memorize a few lyrics and plot lines.

Eventually, the Duke lands a temporary job selling Fat Free Farmer's Bounty, a diet margarine, for Kate's firm. His truthfulness makes him a marvelous spokesperson…until he tastes the stuff and likens it to saddle soap. And while he and Kate fall madly for each other, he's got a return ticket to the 1870s and a time tunnel to catch. Along for the fantastic voyage is a fine supporting cast, especially some fine comic moments from Rat Race's Breckin Meyer as Kate's brother Charlie. Spalding Gray, fresh from a brief appearance in How High, does a brilliant bit as a psychiatrist.

Kate & Leopold won't win any Academy Awards, although I'll bet that Sting's love song Until… gets an Oscar nomination. The tune has already received a Golden Globe nod, as well as Jackman's performance in a comedy or musical. Ryan's beguiling charm and romantic vulnerabilities play well against Jackman's Prince Charming. There you have it, it's only a fairy tale.

Directed by:
James Mangold

Meg Ryan
Hugh Jackman
Liev Schreiber
Breckin Meyer
Natasha Lyonne
Bradley Whitford
Paxton Whitehead
Spalding Gray
Philip Bosco

Written by:
James Mangold
Steven Rogers

PG-13 - Parents
Strongly Cautioned.
Some material may
be inappropriate for
children under 13.




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