Despite all apparent evidence to the contrary, Meg Ryan and Hugh Jackman's new cheesy, treacly, time-travel romance, Kate & Leopold, isn't cheesy or treacly at all, and actually has very little to do with time travel. It's genuinely funny and sweet, without making me want to gag even once. Just another pleasant surprise in a Christmas movies season that has yielded very few duds.
Hugh Jackman is Leopold, a proper English gentleman living in 1870's New York. He's a Duke, no less, whose family is down on it's financial luck and have pinned their futures on marrying off their romantically reticent heir to New York new money. Leopold, on the other hand, is much more interested in science; in the new advances of the age, than he is in settling down. He has come up with a remarkable idea for a contraption that would carry people from floor to floor in tall buildings. And then, while watching the dedication ceremony of the East River Bridge, he sees something exceedingly odd. A nervous young man skirting through the crowd taking pictures of the whole affair with a tiny camera. Naturally he follows the stranger, Stuart, who makes haste to hurtle himself back to the 21st century (our present), accidentally taking Leopold with him. I won't go into all the science involved with the time travel; it's not all that important in the end, but it's interesting to see it unfolding in the film. Enter Kate: a tough career woman on the verge of a big promotion who happens to live in the apartment below our intrepid time-traveler who also happens to be her ex-beau. When Stuart accidentally falls down an elevator shaft (all the elevators are suddenly out of order, three guesses why) Kate and Leopold are thrust together, destined for the kind of romance that only your traditional fish-out-of-water story can foster.
What makes this old story seem fresh and new has much to do with the charisma of Hugh Jackman. Meg Ryan is a tried and true commodity. People love her, and even her sudden break-up with long-time husband Dennis Quaid couldn't change that. But Hugh Jackman, this guy has come out of nowhere. He hit it big as Wolverine in X-Men, and turned another possible sapfest, Someone Like You, into a smart, successful comedy. True, Swordfish kind of tanked, but it wasn't his fault, just that inevitable ebb and flow of John Travolta's career. Hugh Jackman is suave, handsome, and can actually act! My advice would be to film X-Men 2 now because his asking price is about to go through the roof.
Aside from Jackman's talents, Kate & Leopold succeeds because it is genuinely funny. A great supporting cast including Breckin Meyer, Liev Schrieber, and Bradley Whitford keep the humor up so that the romance doesn't drown the audience, but they don't squelch it either. Make no mistake, this is a romance, just not one that will make you gag. One of the funniest bits involves Jackman's royal personage as the spokesman for a new fat-free butter spread until he tastes it and declares that it tastes like swill. "It's diet!" shouts Kate, "It's supposed to taste like swill!"
There are a few problems with the film, but luckily the director keeps his story light enough that they don't amount to much. The fact that Leopold is able to assimilate to suddenly being thrust 130 years into the future as quickly as he does is one issue. Wouldn't you think that someone who had never even had the concept of television would be completely blown away by it? He gets over his amazement pretty quick. What about cars? Nineteenth century folk never got much above 10 miles per hour unless they were to fall out of a hot-air balloon. All these giant metal objects hurtling by at the ungodly speeds of 40 and 50 miles per hour give him a brief start, but he gets over that pretty quick, too. But that's ok. This movie isn't about reality; it isn't about accuracy (didn't James Otis invent the elevator?) it's about how cute Hugh and Meg look together, and it's about how funny it is to hear nineteenth century dialogue spoken in 21st century New York. Kate & Leopold is a fairy tale at best, and there's nothing wrong with that. Grade: B+
Kate & Leopold is rated PG-13 for mild language and mild adult content.
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