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Kate and Leopold

movie reviewmovie reviewvideo review out of 4 Movie Review: Kate and Leopold

Starring: Meg Ryan, Hugh Jackman
Director: James Mangold
Rated: PG-13
RunTime: 118 Minutes
Release Date: December 2001
Genres: Comedy, Romance, Sci-Fi/Fantasy

*Also starring: Natasha Lyonne, Breckin Meyer, Liev Schreiber, Bradley Whitford, James Mangold

Review by Harvey Karten
No Rating Supplied

They say that when you fall in love, time stands still, but this is not so. Just ask Steven Rogers, who penned the story about a pair of lovers who looked at each and felt as though they were experiencing love at first sight only to discover that a moment in time actually spanned a century and a quarter. Adapted by director James Mangold from Rogers's story, this positively enchanting romance, which would have opened ideally on Valentine's Day, was happily brought forward to our own time to be presented during a holiday season that has taken on a morose ambience because of the September 11 tragedy. Every character in James Mangold's captivating picture is likable--as opposed to, say, the passive-aggressive Sara (Kate Beckinsale) the charmer in Peter Chelsom's sappy and disheartening "Serendipity." While the conventions of romantic comedy require roadblocks to keep the loving couple apart until the conclusion, the Kate McKay (Meg Ryan) of Mangold's fantasy is not the overconfident Sara who teases nice guy Jonathan (John Cusack), supporting the convention by daring him to prove that he's worthy of her. Despite her sharp business acumen, her contemporary outlook and her thoroughly New York-urban sensibility, Kate does not have much faith in her capabilities with men, so that when the love her life--almost literally a Prince Charming--comes along and courts her gracefully, she does not trust herself to take the plunge with him. She's the sort of woman who'd be suspicious were he to say "Kiss me, Kate."

While everyone is likable in the story, Kate must deal in her marketing job with people who are encouraged to express their antipathy toward the people they see. She is a rising star in a marketing firm, running focus groups and being considered for a promotion to senior vice president by her boss, J.J. (Bradley Whitford), encouraged by her competent assistant Darci (Natasha Lyonne). In the opening scene she watches as an audience in a movie theater turns mostly thumbs down on a new romance, holding that the characters are unlikable and the story not believable. Later on in the movie's most hilarious scene, she is to help evoke a credible performance from actors experienced in TV commercials who must pretend to enjoy a disgusting no-fat butter.

The story centers on Leopold, Duke of Albany (Hugh Jackman), an almost bankrupt expatriate British subject living in New York in 1876 who is about to declare an engagement to the woman with the most money. He comes upon Stuart (Liev Schreiber), who is taking pictures with a camera that has yet to be invented and wearing clothing the likes of which no one had ever seen. Stuart has traveled through time, having discovered a window of opportunity on the Brooklyn Bridge which, jumping off, would take a person back 125 years. When Leopold accidentally falls through the time zone with Stuart and enters our own contemporary New York, he is at first mystified by the cars, the planes, the dishwasher and the TV, but ultimately becomes even more confounded by his feeling for Kate, who lives one flight up from Stuart. Kate is slowly courted by a man who has never learned to be vulgar, and must ultimately make the decision of her life.

"Kate & Leopold" bears resemblance to several other time- travel movies. Jeannot Szwarc's 1980 tearjerker featuring Christopher Reeve, Jane Seymour and Christopher Plummer, "Somewhere in Time," deals with an unhappy playwright who falls for a seventy-year-old painting of an actress and wills himself back in time to meet her, but stilted dialogue brought the picture down to a humdrum earth. A year before that one, Malcolm McDowell held court with Mary Steenburgen in Nicholas Meyer's "Time After Time," a tale of H.G. Wells' following Jack the Ripper from Victorian England to 1979 America. And in Gregory Hoblit's "Frequency" last year, Jim Caviezel starred as a young man whose goal is to save his dad (played by Dennis Quaid) from his accidental death while fighting a fire--the most complex and interesting of the trio.

"Kate & Leopold" by contrast is not burdened with an overly complex plot or attempts at social commentary or with providing a gut-busting, laugh-a-minute comedy or Kleenex-evoking melodrama. Featuring an excellent ensemble of supporting players like Liev Schreiber in the role of a dumped boy friend who absolutely must get his duke back to 1876 lest he and Kate fail to get born, Breckin Meyer as Kate comic-relief brother Charlie, eager to have Kate find the right man, and Bradley Whitford as Kate's boss whose interest in the upcoming executive is not entirely businesslike, "Kate & Leopold" is uplifting. Mangold takes his audience out of a tense, overpopulated, money-driven city into a quieter era of cobblestone streets, mannerly gentleman, and equestrian taxi-drivers who speak fluent English. You may not want to live there--after all, we like our flush toilets, the Oprah show, and MetroCard--but we can sit in our comfortable theater seats chomping on popcorn and guzzling Cokes while dreaming of a time that people were civilized, streets were safe, and Osama bin Laden nary a thought in anyone's vision.

Copyright 2001 Harvey Karten

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