Though she has not starred in one since 1998, Meg Ryan is probably best known for her perky charm in bubbly romantic comedies, such as "When Harry Met Sally", "Sleepless in Seattle", and most recently, "You've Got Mail". "Kate & Leopold" marks Ryan's return to the form with the unlikely romantic entanglement between a Duke from 1876 and a career woman from 2001. And for the most part, "Kate & Leopold" does what offers what you would expect from a romantic comedy starring Meg Ryan, along with some terrific 'fish out of water' humor and a bit of sci-fi for good measure.
The story begins in 1876, when Leopold, the Duke of Albany (Hugh Jackman of "X-Men"), must choose a wealthy wife to safeguard his life of privilege. Unfortunately, Leopold has never felt even an inkling of true love before, and the choices laid out before him leave much to be desired. However, before he can make a decision, he sees a strange man roaming the house and decides to follow him. It turns out that the strange man, Stuart (Liev Schreiber of "Scream 3"), is from the future, and Leopold ends up inadvertently following him back to the year 2001 through a 'crack' in the space-time continuum.
Upon his arrival, in addition to being exposed to the strange sights and appalling manners of the modern world, Leopold is introduced to Stuart's ex-girlfriend Kate (Ryan), who lives downstairs with her aspiring actor brother Charlie (Breckin Meyer of "Road Trip"). Not surprisingly, Leopold is enamored by Kate, as she is unlike any woman he has ever known, as she is assertive, outspoken, and of great intelligence. Unfortunately, Kate is also being wooed by her boss (Bradley Whitford of TV's "The West Wing"), who also happens to be dangling a promotion to Vice President in front of her. To further complicate matters, according to Stuart, the entire space-time continuum might unravel if Leopold doesn't return to his rightful place in the past.
Science fiction purists will probably have a field day with all the logical inconsistencies arising from the script's time-travel elements, particularly the circumstances surrounding a photograph that triggers a key turning point in the third act, or how Leopold is able to quote from the opera "La Bohème", especially since it was not written until 1896. True, if "Kate & Leopold" was supposed to be about crafting an intelligent exploration of the concept of time travel, then such discrepancies would be unacceptable.
However, "Kate & Leopold" is more about romance and humor, two elements that are in good abundance, thanks to the script co-penned by director James Mangold ("Girl, Interrupted") and Steven Rogers ("Hope Floats"). The chemistry between Ryan and Jackman is unmistakable, and their dialogue is fresh and witty, making good use of Leopold's tendency for good diction and phraseology. Of course, the film makes the obligatory contrasts between the worlds of 1876 and 2001, such as a humorous bit involving Leopold gallivanting through New York's Central Park on horseback, or a confrontation with a cop over a poop-and-scoop infraction. Thankfully, Jackman's unflappable portrayal of Leopold not only makes these comic scenes come across as credible, but allow him to carry the film. And as Leopold's love interest, Ryan shows that she is still in top form, delivering the sort of performance audiences expect and she is best known for, with her usual toolkit of cute facial expressions and gestures.
"Kate & Leopold" marks a dramatic change of pace for director James Mangold, whose body of work has been confined to more serious dramas, from his breakthrough "Heavy" to his most recent "Girl, Interrupted". Though Mangold may be out of his element, like Leopold, he acquits himself quite admirably in his new surroundings. "Kate & Leopold" may not be Oscar material, but it is certainly a quaint, lighthearted, and fun two-hour diversion, well-suited for the holiday season.