*Kate & Leopold (PG-13)
Kate & Leopold is a time-traveling romance tale that hugs the corners of its funky twists and turns as much as its actors hold fast to its punchy and upbeat script. Writer/director James Mangold (Girl, Interrupted; Copland) works as a conductor of plot and character, accenting the story with bursts of quick jokes and light social criticism. Hugh Jackman (X-Men) plays time-transported 19th-century bachelor Leopold, the Third Duke of Albany.
Leopold is brought into the 21st century by Stewart (Liev Schreiber, A Walk on the Moon), a scientist and former boyfriend to ad executive Kate McKay (Meg Ryan). Stewart has found a crack in the fabric of time just off the Brooklyn Bridge and is seeking out his great-great grandfather Leopold on the other end of the telescope when the world shifts back to current time.
The movie begins with a 19th-century Leopold (Jackman) being shepherded into marriage to a young wealthy girl as nave and doting as a lovesick puppy, while Stewart lurks in the background.
Events soon bring Stewart and Leopold through a space and time continuum into the present day and it isn't long before Leopold is giving the modern world lessons in ethics, integrity and romance.
Kate's slimy boss J.J. (Bradley Whitford, West Wing) has eyes for turning Kate into an off-hours playmate, but Kate is such a no-nonsense American chick that his attempts at manipulating her are all the more amusing for Kate's post-modern bored reactions. Naturally this situation allows Leopold to make a flourish of defending the lady's honor by putting the cunning J.J. in his place with Old English wit and style.
Director Mangold secures broad performance levels from his actors, transmitted through minute facial expressions. Production designer Mark Friedberg (Pollock, The Ice Storm) conjures the film's visually busy New York surroundings with an air of cozy, hot- pretzel reality.
The movie makes or breaks on Jackman's ability to maintain a royal tone without condescending or hamming too much. He's a supple enough actor to sustain the character's air of time- disjointed experience without overdoing it. Jackman and Ryan put a warm spin on the opposing attraction between their characters with charisma to spare in this light farce.
The film's message that we can all have whatever we want if we stand up and choose it for ourselves may be an old idea, but it finds a fresh breath in this inventive and determined romantic comedy.
-- Cole Smithey