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(2001) (Hugh Jackman, Meg Ryan) (PG-13)

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Romantic Comedy: A 21st century marketing executive finds herself falling for a charming and polite duke who's inadvertently traveled through time from 1876 to modern day New York.
It's 1876 and Leopold (HUGH JACKMAN), the third Duke of Albany, is a charming and handsome aristocrat who's been brought to New York in hopes of marrying him to a young socialite from a wealthy family. A man of fine standards who's also an inventor, Leopold is intrigued by his repeated sightings of Stuart (LIEV SCHREIBER), a man who doesn't seem to fit in with his surroundings.

Racing after him one night trying to learn who he is and what he wants, Leopold suddenly find himself, along with Stuart, transported through a time portal into present day New York. Leopold is obviously shocked by his new surroundings, and learns that it was Stuart who discovered the rip in the fabric of time that's allowed their travel.

As he quickly becomes accustomed to this new world, Leopold meets Kate McKay (MEG RYAN), Stuart's ex-girlfriend and a marketing executive who still lives one floor down from Stuart. Cynical about men after a failed four-year romance with Stuart, Kate doesn't believe his or Leopold's accounting of what's happened. Her out of work actor brother, Charlie (BRECKIN MEYER), believes Leopold to be a convincing, if nonstop thespian.

With Stuart hospitalized after a fall in the elevator, Kate gets to know Leopold and is eventually won over by his charming, debonair, and decidedly old-fashioned ways. In turn, he finds himself falling for her, even though he doesn't necessarily agree with her profession. As she tries to land a promotion from her boss, J.J. (BRADLEY WHITFORD), with the aide of her assistant, Darci (NATASHA LYONNE), Kate must decide what to do about Leopold who Stuart needs to return to the 19th century in less than a week.

OUR TAKE: 4 out of 10
By their very nature and design, most films known as "chick flicks" are fashioned to play to and entertain viewers of the fairer gender by focusing on love, romance, lots of talking about just that and the occasional fairy tale type story and conclusion. On the flip side, most time travel stories are geared more for men, with heavy amounts of science fiction mixed with doses of action and/or adventure.

The best, or at least most entertaining films of both sub-genres such as "The Philadelphia Story" and "Pretty Woman" or "Back to the Future" and "Time After Time" are designed to play equally well to both sexes, thus offering larger potential audiences by alleviating the boredom factor each group often feels toward the other's offerings.

Hedging their bets in hopes of doing just that, the filmmakers behind "Kate and Leopold" have given the chick flick movie the time travel treatment. The result is a moderately successful modern day fairy tale where the blahs and wrongs of today are remedied by a liberal dose of gentlemanly behavior and attitudes from yesteryear.

The beauty or flaw of such films, depending on how one views such things, is that by bending reality, they're able to get away with some material that wouldn't otherwise pass muster in a "normal" picture. I emphasize "some" since this film -- written by screenwriter Steven Rogers ("Stepmom," "Hope Floats") and writer/director James Mangold ("Girl, Interrupted," "Cop Land") - is a little slack when it comes to adhering or playing by the rules of its own universe.

Like most any time travel picture, the story obviously contains a "fish out of water" element that in this case concerns a late 19th century duke suddenly thrust into the 21st century. Accordingly, and considering the technological achievements, advances and general change in urban areas and their residents, one would expect the fish to be shocked, amazed and/or confused to no end about how things have "progressed."

Although that occurs for a while here, Leopold - played with the right charming touch by Hugh Jackman ("Swordfish," "X-Men") - too quickly adapts to his surroundings and soon fits in too perfectly. While part of that is supposed to be attributed to the fact that he's an inventor - an element "Time After Time" also used, but far more effectively - his transition and acceptance is far too easy and quick, thus robbing the film of some of its comedic and/or dramatic potential.

Of course, that's the man inside me talking, and such fish out of water devices have pretty much been run into the ground over the years. Besides, such themes don't seem to be the film's primary focus or intent. Thus, the time travel bit seems more of a contrivance and element that's present simply to allow for some late in the game "suspense" - that's not particularly gripping in concept or execution - rather than a well-conceived, integral part of the story.

My biggest problem with the film, however, is that its tone just doesn't feel right. While it seems that the cast and crew are going for something of an old-fashioned, screwball type romantic comedy, the finished product simply feels off kilter, as the whimsical elements feel forced and/or annoying rather than as a natural byproduct of the proceedings.

Part of the problem stems from how some of the characters are constructed and/or embodied. Playing the same sort of romantic lead she's done countless times before, Meg Ryan ("Proof of Life," "Hanging Up") - or more accurately, her character - is annoying at first as the typical busy woman who's now bitter and cynical about love.

While her character becomes a bit more engaging as the story wears on, it's one of the film's weaker elements. The same holds true for Liev Schreiber ("Jakob the Liar," the "Scream" films) as her ex-boyfriend and the initial catalyst for what occurs. That's as much due to the way the plot handles his character, as it is the way the actor plays him.

Beyond the shortchanged time-travel elements - he doesn't seem the kind of person to have figured out the portal element and isn't particularly concerned about such travel's possible repercussions - one never believes or buys that he and Kate were an item, especially for four years.

In addition, the whole bit about him being stuck in a hospital and then mental institution does nothing for the film. Instead, it probably further shortchanges the story's potential by eliminating what could have been an interesting triangular relationship.

Meanwhile, Breckin Meyer ("Road Trip," "Go") is okay as Kate's brother and recipient of Leopold's dating advice, but Natasha Lyonne ("Detroit Rock City," "Slums of Beverly Hills") and Bradley Whitford ("Bicentennial Man," TV's "The West Wing") as her assistant and boss respectively are pretty much wasted.

Feeling like a lame retreading of films such as "Crocodile Dundee" spliced with an even lamer time travel flick, the film may appeal to diehard romantics who might allow the romance and fairy tale elements to mask the film's deficiencies.

More forced than touching, lacking much of a serviceable plot and simply feeling off-track right from the get-go, the film might have a touch of old-fashioned appeal, but it's simply not that good or entertaining, at least for most men or any sort of discerning female viewers. "Kate and Leopold" thus rates as just a 4 out of 10.

Reviewed December 13, 2001 / Posted December 21, 2001

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