Chalk this one up as an intermittently enjoyable but weightless throwback to the romantic comedies of the early 1980s. Leopold (Hugh Jackman), the hunky Third Duke of Albany and the inventor of the elevator, is untimely ripped from his surroundings in the New York City of 1876 and brought into the present. A courtly anomaly in the modern-day Big Apple, he nonetheless falls hard for Kate McKay (Meg Ryan), a market researcher whose career has been more successful than her love life.
Kate's ex, Stuart Besser (Liev Schreiber), is the armchair time-travel expert who pulls Leopold into today. In the version of the film that was shown to preview audiences, he also happened to be Leopold's direct descendant. Just before "Kate & Leopold" was sent to theaters, the worry warts at Miramax Films decided that the resolution of this bizarre love triangle amounted to a case of multigenerational incest, and the familial bond between the two men was excised from the storyline.
We of calmer heads know that there are far more serious reasons for an audience to find a film offensive. (One of the most common: Meg Ryan is in it.) But while Miramax still had the lid off the jar of splicing glue, the studio unfathomably elected to yank a few additional scenes that had nothing to do with any imagined impropriety, and whose senseless removal makes the finished picture far less fun than it was.
Gone is Kate's crucial first scene, in which the marketing whiz was seen attending a test screening of "Love for Sale," a hilariously hackneyed weeper set to the syrupy strains of Vanessa Williams' "Save the Best for Last." By so lampooning chick-flick clichés right out of the starting gate, "Kate & Leopold" reserved the right to indulge those same clichés to its heart's content in the name of parody -- which it did, and with gusto. With the scene gone, the movie instead becomes just another chick flick itself.
That and a few more injudicious edits decimate our ability to find Kate sympathetic. Allegedly a good soul embittered by disappointment, she now comes across as merely bitchy. Jackman's performance, relievedly, has been untouched; he remains every bit as aristocratic, charismatic and funny as the story requires. After a few dashed hopes, he may yet become an honest-to-goodness movie star.
Jackman's best chemistry, though, was never with Ryan, but with "Inside Schwartz" casualty Breckin Meyer, who plays Kate's brother, Charlie. An unemployed actor who (of course) assumes that Leopold is a fellow thespian acting the role of a dandy night and day, Charlie turns to the (seriously) older man for romantic counsel. Their well-tuned comic interplay, which contains hints of the classic Peter O'Toole/Mark Linn-Baker pairing in "My Favorite Year," cries out to be revisited in a sequel. To avoid confusion, I recommend that it be titled "Kate & Leopold III."