Kate & Leopold (2001)

(On TV, November 2017) I’m usually a good audience for romantic comedies and science-fiction movies, but Kate & Leopold falls flat in ways that have to do with an incompetent blending of genres. Even as a time-travel romance (a surprisingly robust category), it falls short. It really doesn’t help that Hugh Jackman signed up to play an essentially perfect character, plucked from history to serve as a romantic partner for an incredibly bland heroine played by Meg Ryan back when Meg Ryan was the it-girl for any romantic comedy. While I can understand Jackman’s enthusiasm for a role in which he is flawless, it doesn’t make for good cinema. Kate & Leopold’s romantic aspect seems rote and featureless, while the time-travel elements scarcely make sense. Not only does it have to do with falling through temporal anomalies by jumping off the Brooklyn Bridge (!), there is something deeply dumb about elevators not running properly because their inventor has travelled to the present. By the time hero and heroine travel back in time for good, we can barely muster up enough energy to formulate a perfunctory “I give them six months … or really I give her a year before she’s dead.”  To be fair, little of the film’s flaws have to do with its lead actors: Jackman is charming no matter the situation, while Liev Schreiber gets an oddball role as a nerd matchmaker far removed from the tough-guy persona he has since developed. (Amusingly enough, look closely and you’ll see Kristen Schaal, Viola Davis and Natasha Lyonne in very small roles.) While it’s worth remembering that romantic comedies aren’t really watched for plotting or even logical consistency, Kate & Leopold does very little in more crucial matters of characters, dialogue, comedy or struggles to outweigh its serious narrative issues. As a result, it feels both flat and insubstantial—with very little to make it worthwhile except for Jackman coasting with a flawless character performance.

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