Friday, April 4, 2014

Kate and Leopold


I've been scrutinizing my copy of Daily Variety quite closely, making sure that none of the details of the little problem I had the other night with Johnny Carson made it into the trades. Fortunately, Madame Rose, my publicist, has again proved her worth and kept the details out of everything other than The Weekly World News where it was lost between an article entitled Bigfoot Stole My Wife and one on Bat Boy: Secret Life of Booze and Strippers. I must protect my family friendly image at all costs if my new show is to be a success.

There is one troubling cloud on the horizon, while reading Daily Variety, I noticed a large ad for an upcoming theater musical. In rather tacky Italianate typeface, it announced the imminent debut of "All Singing! All Dancing! All Kabuki!" and below "Margo Channing is Stephen King's Christine". That tramp seems to be stealing my ideas again. I'll have to phone the producers in the morning to see what they think about two Japanese style musicals opening within weeks of each other and what this might do to business.

After sending Margo a bouquet of dead nasturtiums with a congratulatory note on her latest venture, I felt in need of a film so off I went to the Cineplex to see something happy. My choice was the recent release, Kate and Leopold, with Meg Ryan and Hugh Jackman. This is the latest film from James Mangold, a director better known for heavier fare such as Cop Land and Girl, Interrupted. I have never been a big fan of Meg Ryan but Hugh Jackman sunk his claws into me as Wolverine in X-men and I was interested in seeing him as a romantic lead.

Kate and Leopold is of that subgenre of romantic comedy-drama that involves time travel and soul mates from different stages of history like Somewhere in Time or Jack Finney's novel Time and Again. With its New York setting, it's almost a reflection of the latter, only the dashing hero comes forward from old New York to modern rather than the novel's hero going from modern to time past. Leopold (Jackman), the titular hero, is a British Duke, in 1870s New York in order to snag a rich American heiress and restore a flagging family fortune. On the night of the grand ball where he is to announce an engagement, an anachronistic stranger, Stuart (Liev Schreiber), turns up complete with miniature camera and ball point pen for taking notes. Leopold is an amateur scientist and, in a poorly constructed subplot, responsible for the development of the modern elevator. He notices Stuart and gives chase in the rain over a partially completed Brooklyn Bridge, where Stuart manages to suck him though a time portal to modern day Manhattan.

Stuart, you see, is a misunderstood genius who has learned to mathematically predict holes in the fabric of time and discovered one over the East River that can be accessed by jumping off the Brooklyn Bridge, but it is only open at certain intervals, so Leopold is stuck in 2001 for a while. Stuart is the ex-boyfriend of the titular Kate (Ryan), who, conveniently lives downstairs. Kate is one of those career girls in the Rosalind Russell mode who does PR things and is busy trying to foist diet butter on the masses, without much success. She's also trying to fend off the amorous advances of her boss J.J. (Bradley Whitford) while still keeping herself in line for the promotion he controls. Stuart is soon dispatched in a convenient elevator accident (the fact that the inventor of the elevator has been displaced in time is causing them all to act up) and Kate and Leopold are thrown together. By the time, he corrals a white horse from one of the Central Park tourist carriages and rides down a would be purse snatcher, she is smitten and true love is in the air. Things are, of course, complicated by various time travel subplots, her brother, Charlie (Breckin Meyer), an out of work actor and her assistant Darci (Natasha Lyonne), a hopeless romantic. Needless to say, everything eventually sorts itself out.

As a romance, the script tends to gloss over the ethics of time travel in favor of the need for two souls to be together. This is fine, however, the script is very sloppily written. There were, apparently, scenes cut between critics previews and general release and, in places, the film is quite choppy. It also makes Leopold into a clairvoyant. It is stated repeatedly that he comes from April 1876, however, he seems intimately familiar with The Pirates of Penzance (written in 1879), Jack the Ripper (active 1888), and La Boheme (written in 1896). This last one is also a major plot point and speaks of either careless research on the part of Mangold as screenwriter, or a major underestimation of the intelligence of his audience.

Sloppy directing, writing, and editing aside, there is much to be enjoyed here in the performances. Jackman is exquisite as the courtly Leopold. Mannered, stately, but warm and inquisitive about the brave new world into which he has been thrust. Breckin Meyer and Natasha Lyonne are also great in their supporting roles, imbuing what could be stereotypical comic relief with some humanity. Meg Ryan is the weak link; she's done this sort of role so many times before, that she seems to have phoned most of it in from somewhere else. There's little real passion in her performance, and no sense of why she would end up choosing as she does. She's also starting to get a little long in the tooth for the perky little miss role. They're going to need to put some more Vaseline on the lens soon.

This is not so much one for a matinee as it is for a rainy Sunday afternoon on TNT in a couple of years when you can fall asleep during part of it and not be troubled by having wasted your hard earned cash.

Shirtless Hugh Jackman. Faux dairy spokespeople. Missing palm pilot. Comic large dog. Gratuitous dog poop. Bridge climbing. Family heirloom ring. Nightclub gathering. 'Modern Major General' singing. Gratuitous ugly heiresses. 

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