A drearily languid film all the more tiresome because it stars Meg Ryan (1998's "You've Got Mail
") in the same cute role we've seen her in at least ten times before, "Kate and Leopold" has arrived just in the nick of time to become the most unromantic romance of the year.
When Manhattan inventor Stuart (Liev Schreiber) discovers a portal through time that lands him in New York City, circa 1876, he is dismayed to return to the present day with 19th-century gentleman Leopold (Hugh Jackman) intact. Leopold, an inventor himself, is at first dismayed by the changes time has brought to his beloved city, but not terribly surprised. As he bides his time in Stuart's apartment until he returns from the hospital after a freak elevator accident, Leopold meets Stuart's ex-girlfriend and neighbor Kate McKay (Meg Ryan). Kate, a market researcher, doesn't believe for a second that Leopold is from a totally different century, but she can't help but fall head over heels for a man who is as kind, debonair, and well-mannered as he.
Written and directed by the usually dependable James Mangold (1999's "Girl, Interrupted
"), the fantasy-laden "Kate and Leopold" offers no surprises and little charm. So desperately lacking is the screenplay that the distinguishing factors to set it apart from any number of other romantic comedies is nil. In fact, the remarkably similar "Just Visiting
" was released earlier this year, and even that critical and box-office dud had more going for it than this higher-profile project.
Meg Ryan, a fine actress in her own right, has been in so many romances that they cease to hold interest any longer. Granted, the film might have improved with better writing, but you can only watch the same actress in the same story so many times before it grows tedious. At 40, Ryan is also getting a little long in the tooth to be playing the sprightly ingenue. Opposite her is the charismatic Hugh Jackman, who was put to far better use in his other, superior romance from 2001, "Someone Like You
." In "Kate and Leopold," the arrestingly masculine qualities Jackman has held in the past are exempt from the finished product.
The supporting cast is filled out with top-drawer actors in low-rung parts. Liev Schreiber (2000's "Scream 3
"), as the eccentric Stuart, gets the only funny moments, but he disappears for long stretches of time after the opening half-hour. Breckin Meyer (2001's "Rat Race
") is always fun to watch, and here he stars as Kate's younger brother, Charlie. Unfortunately, he is brought down by the negative weights around him. Most misused of all is Natasha Lyonne (2001's "American Pie 2
"), a refreshingly talented young actress who, as Kate's hopelessly romantic assistant, Darci, must have been the biggest victim of post-production editing.
The centerpiece of "Kate and Leopold"--the burgeoning love story between the two star-crossed title characters--is stagnant and unconvincing. In order for a romance to work on film, chemistry is a necessity, and Ryan and Jackman have none. The ending, which is meant to warm hearts, feels contrived and wholly unbelievable. As one of the final motion picture releases of 2001, "Kate and Leopold" is an overlong, trite snoozefest. Hopefully, it is not a sign of things to come in the new year.
©2001 by Dustin Putman