Hello, friends in time, and welcome to a regular feature on Cinema 52 where I put my weekly viewing of Back to the Future on hold and watch another movie featuring time travel for comparison. It may not keep me sane, but it will probably always involve one guy shouting, “This doesn’t make any sense!” And that’s good enough for me.

KATE & LEOPOLD (2001)

“Chivalry makes a comeback”? Sorry, I meant to get this review started, but my balls retreated into my stomach at the sight of this poster and now I’m a bit dizzy. Right. Ahem. So Kate (Meg Ryan) lives now. Leopold (Hugh Jackman) lived then. Space-time whoopdy doo. Romcom.

THE STORY:
This movie actually starts pretty strong. It opens in 1876 at a celebration to kick off the construction of the Brooklyn Bridge. One guy in the audience (Liev Schreiber) keeps cracking up every time somebody says “erection.” That’s the kind of thing only a moron from 2001 would laugh at… hey, wait a minute, is he taking snapshots?

Why isn’t he using his phone? Man, everything in this frame is an antique.

This is more plot than I expected from a Magic Boyfriend from the Past flick, but trust me, the second this character takes off into a time-hole with the titular Leopold in pursuit, it immediately becomes a stock romantic comedy. Almost jarringly so.

He’s good with kids? Aww, I’ve got the womb shivers.

Here we see Kate spyin’ on Leopold as he entertains the neighbor kid that Liev Schreiber babysits while her visiting brother Charlie (Breckin Meyer) sings back-up on “Modern Major-General,” ie. how many characters do we need in this damn thing? Also, I’m sorry, Kate and Leopold don’t have nearly as much chemistry as Charlie and Leopold.

I had no idea going in that I’d be shipping these guys.

So the majority of Leopold’s time in modern New York is spent commenting on how life has become too fast-paced. Sure, that’s a message one could get behind, but come on, you know it’s only to dampen the hopelessly romantic ladies in the audience. And let’s be realistic here: Leopold has been displaced in time, so it makes sense for him to be old-fashioned, but any modern guy who acts like this would be a complete tool.

A turtleneck? The transformation is complete.

Here’s a weird plot point for you: Leopold is the inventor of the modern elevator (for the purposes of this story, not in real life). Liev Schreiber’s character Stuart, who apparently dabbles in locating time-holes merely as a hobby, is immediately concerned about fucking up history when he steps into an elevator only to find that there isn’t one. So… nobody else thought of even the most basic concept of a platform that can be raised and lowered? Why is the elevator shaft still there? How many people died as a result of elevators suddenly not existing? Would all of the buildings in New York get shorter? Have we just witnessed the lamest ripple effect possible?

“You’re… thinking… too… hard… for… a… rom… com…”

Overall, there just isn’t enough of a story here to keep me interested. Kate needs someone in her life, Leopold needs someone in his life, pad the rest with Leopold making faces at TVs and phones. Charlie and Leopold bettering themselves by swapping advice is sometimes entertaining, and I did laugh a little at the sub-plot where Kate gets Leopold a job at her advertising firm by starring in margarine commercials, but it’s not enough.

So, this gig didn’t require any paperwork? Right, romcom.

Icing on the time-cake? They break their own rules, but we’ll save that for the spoilery section.

THE ACTING:
I understand why Hugh Jackman took this role. He had just blown up in the public eye with X-Men, and he had to do a romcom to show his range. From a PR perspective, it still has one foot in the sci-fi door, so it’s better than just another crappy romance, so really, this was the perfect project for Jackman to take on. And he doesn’t phone it in; his performance is hands-down the only reason you’d want to watch this. Still, it doesn’t save the movie and I wish he’d passed.

I very much wanted to praise Meg Ryan’s acting for playing Kate as a strong, independent woman… until she’s called out for being “masculine” in the beginning of the film, which is all a wind-up for old-timey Leopold to teach her how to get her fem on so he can treat her like a woman should be treated, which is pretty much the worst message ever. This is, of course, the screenplay’s fault, not Meg’s, but regardless, I didn’t really like her after the turnaround.

Also, she dresses like Morpheus.

Bradley Whitford snivels appropriately as the eeevil boss who only wants to give Kate a promotion so he can get in her manly pants, which is weird, because he’s the same dick-hole that called her masculine so… I don’t know, whatever, this movie is stupid.

“Hey, you unattractive man-like person… wanna bang?”

Breckin Meyer is fun, Liev Schreiber is practically unnecessary to the story, and an actress on the back cover is named Natasha Lyonne, but I couldn’t tell you who she is in the movie. Somebody named Darci, according to IMDb.

Kristen Schaal? Ten times more memorable than whoever the hell Darci is.

THE SPECIAL EFFECTS:
Falling off of a bridge into a cloud of CGI smoke while a bell dings backwards. That’s it.

Whee.

Oh, and Meg Ryan’s face. Zing.

Am I wrong in assuming Leopold would be opposed to cosmetic surgery?

OTHER (SPOILERY) STUFF:

  • Alternate cut spoiler! I watched the theatrical cut, but apparently the director’s cut contains a mistake that implies Kate accidentally banged a relative. You know how time travel is.
  • Stupid ending rule-breaker spoiler! Folks, I can’t stop running into immutabullshit. The movie clearly takes place under mutable rules, as Leopold’s absence from history is causing elevators to disappear or stop working or whatever suits the story. At the end of the movie, however, Liev Schreiber finds Kate in one of his photographs from the past, so she must go back in time to stay with Leopold. Sorry, that only flies in an immutable timeline.

“Is something supposed to fade?”

THE “NONE OF THIS MAKES ANY SENSE!” MOMENT:
The first rule of time travel romcoms is to never confuse the audience with physics nonsense. The time-hole is nothing more than a gallant hunk delivery service, so close your mouth and open your, um, heart.

Despite the lack of temporal freak-out scenes, I’d kick myself if I didn’t mention the line that this movie somehow got Bradley Whitford to say. In response to Leopold’s accusations of immorality for trying to bed an employee:

“The Duke of Margarine thinks me a serpent.

FINAL THOUGHTS:
Too long, too complicated, and too formulaic. Hugh Jackman’s character is fun to watch, but he belongs in a better movie. 13 Going on 30 may have been saved by Jennifer Garner’s performance, but I’m sorry, Hugh… this ship’s too heavy and you’re going down with it.

LATER THIS WEEK:
Retroactive (1997)

Want more time travel? Head on over to the Time Out archive.