out of five
: 118 mins
Disappointing comedy with several good ideas that are poorly executed –
Jackman’s terrific performance is better than the film deserves, but it comes to something when the worst thing about a Meg Ryan comedy is Meg Ryan…
It’s a shame that Kate & Leopold is such a disappointing film, because it’s obvious that with a few careful rewrites by people that actually cared about plots making sense, this could have been the cute, quirky, time-travel romantic-comedy it so desperately wants to be.
As it is, Jackman’s deservedly Golden Globe-nominated performance prevents it from being an out-and-out disaster, but the over-riding thought you’ll have after seeing this is ‘Just what the hell happened to Meg Ryan?’, as her performance is truly frightening.
The story itself is pretty simple, if a little ‘out-there’ for a Meg Ryan romcom. Advertising executive Kate’s (Meg Ryan) scientific ex-boyfriend (Liev Schreiber) discovers one of those 'rips in the sheets of time' (as you do) and pops back to 1879, where he attracts the attention of Hugh Jackman's 'Duke' Leopold, who follows him back through the time-hole to 21st century New York where -surprise! - he meets Kate. And her Struggling Actor brother (Breckin Mayer from Road Trip and Rate Race). And her Slimy Boss (Bradley Witford, who plays Josh on West Wing). There are, obviously, no prizes for guessing how it all ends up.
The first thing to say about the film is that Hugh Jackman is excellent and will be A Very Big Star Indeed. He is charming, funny, he does a terrific upper-class English accent, he has great comic timing and also, he is completely different to anything else you'll have seen him in (well, okay, Swordfish and X-Men).
In fact, if the film wasn't two hours long, it would have been worth seeing for him alone, but even he can't sustain the film that long.
By contrast, Meg Ryan is really, REALLY bad in the film. So bad you're
embarrassed for her. Worse, you actually think that Jackman could do better. She looks grumpy, tired and way too old and all her normally cute mannerisms are turned up to eleven so that rather than supplementing her supposedly kooky persona, she is actually very irritating – it’s very easy to see why Liev Schreiber dumped her in the first place.
As for the support cast, Breckin Mayer is funny, although the "I get it dude - you're an ACTOR - wow, just how method IS this guy" bit gets old fast. Whitford is good, but as he’s playing the ‘villain’, he should be a whole lot nastier than he is – the filmmakers seem to have given up on any idea of potential conflict. Natasha Lyonne (from American Pie) is also in it, though she’s pretty much wasted and, rather disturbingly, she seems to have eaten a lot of pies.
The frustrating thing is that the film could really have used another
rewrite or two, because everything the film-makers need is right there in front of them, but they don't use it.
For instance, Jackman is supposed to have invented the lift. So when he turns up in New York (the film at least has some nice location work), there are suddenly no lifts. But, apart from Schreiber falling down a lift-shaft and thereby buying them a few days together, they don't use this at all.
Worse still, the reason he gives the lift company the name he does is meant to be a significant moment in the film but it goes way over the heads of anyone not paying enough attention. Also, it seems odd that someone who is supposed to be an inventor would not be completely fascinated by all the 21st century machines.
There are other incredibly annoying moments, too. For one thing, a lot of time is spent on Kate’s work-related ethical dilemma and the timing of that resolution is very badly handled. Similarly, the ending is so ludicrous that you’ll be hard pressed not to yell at the screen in disbelief.
Having said that, it all works very well for about 45 minutes. At the 90 minute point you're thinking 'Okay, you're pushing your luck here, let's wrap this up'. Unfortunately there's still another 30 minutes to go, so a shorter running time would definitely have helped.
To be fair, the film had its share of problems in production, including a hasty re-edit eliminating a confusing sub-plot that hinted at cross-generational incest (Ryan was supposed to be Schreiber’s grandmother or something). A lot of the blame can also be laid at the feet of director James Mangold, who was once a promising director (Heavy, Copland), but has now descended into the ranks of hack-for-hire.
In short, though watchable, Kate & Leopold is a definite disappointment, particularly to anyone looking for the next When Harry Met Sally, or even the next French Kiss. It has its moments and is worth seeing for Jackman’s performance but it’s very frustrating, given that it could so easily have been a much better film.