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As a working premise, nevertheless, one can observe here that the essence of social conservatism is preservation of the ancient moral traditions.
    Russell Kirk, The Conservative Mind: from Burke to Eliot

This film, which ends up being only cute and interesting, rather than fulfilling its potential to be quite good, might qualify as Exhibit A in the argument that, rather than remake great movies, people should remake the ones that flopped or that just didn't work. In this case, Kate & Leopold has four things working in its favor: (1) its star, Hugh Jackman; (2) the character he plays, Leopold Alexis Elijah Walker Gareth Thomas Mountbatten; (3) the central, and joyfully reactionary, conceit of the movie, which is that were a gentleman like Leopold to be transported to our day we would be profoundly affected by his manners, chivalry, courtesy, etc.; and (4) an especially nice performance by Breckin Meyer as Charlie, Kate's brother, who becomes Leo's sidekick and mentee. Unfortunately, the film has several significant drawbacks: (1) Meg Ryan, as the career-obsessed Kate, is too shallow and annoying to be plausible as Leopold's true love; and (2) a severely truncated plot overall, for a specific reason that might be forgiven, and one with holes that should not be excused.

The major problem with the plot is actually fairly amusing. The premise of the story is that Stuart Besser (Liev Schrieber) goes back in time to 1876 to see the opening of the Brooklyn Bridge and, by his odd behavior, draws the attention of Leopold, who is about to reluctantly marry a rich girl, in order to salvage his family's finances. When Leopold accidentally follows him back to modern day Manhattan, Stuart must figure out how to return him to his proper place in the space-time continuum, lest all kinds of havoc ensue, some of it featuring elevators. In the meantime, he gets his former girlfriend, Kate, and her brother to help him keep an eye on this fish out of water. Obviously Kate and Leopold have to fall in love, etc., etc., etc. Yet, somehow, no one noticed when they were making the film that in its original form they had written the story so that Leopold was Stuart's ancestor and Kate his ex-wife, so that, once Kate goes back in time to be with Leopold, we're left with the disturbing realization that Stuart had been getting jiggy with his own great-grandmother!

Apparently audiences and critics at the film's previews were so turned off by this, understandably, that the movie was re-cut to eliminate the biological relationships among the characters. But, not surprisingly, this left the storyline pretty choppy and resulted in such anomalies as Stuart disappearing from the movie for what seemed like about twenty minutes. There were likely financial and logistical reasons for not just going back and shooting some new scenes to rectify the situation, but even if we understand why it wasn't fixed, we nonetheless notice that it wasn't. On the other hand, other errors, like Leopold having seen La Boheme, even though it hadn't been written yet when he left the past, are simply inexcusable.

The disproportion of the two leads is also tough to get past. We can see why Leopold would be intrigued by an empowered and outspoken modern woman, but knowing many such ourselves, we're quite conscious that he could do better than Kate. In particular, there's one scene where she's convinced a client to use Leopold as their pitchman in a series of ads about a butter substitute. But when he actually tastes the product he finds it repulsive and refuses to compromise his honor by endorsing it. She follows him out of the sound stage and prevails upon him to do the spot as a favor to her. He agrees, of course, and the film moves on without much fanfare, but there's a psychic violence done here, a violation of his person, that's the most unsettling thing on screen since the scene in Remains of the Day where Emma Thompson forces Anthony Hopkins to reveal the book he's reading, which turns out to be a romance. Even the rape scenes in A Clockwork Orange don't have the kind of visceral power to unsettle that these two seemingly non-violent episodes do.

Ultimately though, what makes the film worth seeing, and what makes us sorry that it's not better, is Jackman/Leopold and especially the way he instructs Charlie on behavior generally and courting a woman in particular. Jackman/Leopold has a presence, a personal integrity, that leaps off the screen and shrinks everyone else around him by comparison. He makes us yearn for a time when people carried themselves as if their own dignity mattered and treated others as if their dignity mattered to them too. It is Kate's inability to see this and Leopold's willingness to sacrifice for her that really unbalances an already rather rickety story. While Kate proves herself unworthy of him, Jackman/Leopold emerges even more admirable, maybe even impossibly so. Charlie, through his willingness to learn and to become a better man, ends up being the character we most want to see on screen with Leopold and their relationship--which is almost like that of Obi Wan Kenobi and Luke Skywalker and is profoundly conservative in its demonstration that the traditions of the past still have much to teach us--redeems the movie.

(Reviewed:15-Feb-03)

Grade: (C+)

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See also:


    -INFO: Kate & Leopold (2001) (Imdb.com)
   
-FILMOGRAPHY: James Mangold (Imdb.com)
    -FILMOGRAPHY: Hugh Jackman (Imdb.com)
    -Star - Hugh Jackman (BBCi)
    -Entertainment Weekly> People> Individual> Hugh Jackman
    -FILMOGRAPHY: Meg Ryan (Imdb.com)
    -INTERVIEW: Hugh Jackman--Kate & Leopold (Interviewed by Anwar Brett, April 2002, BBCi)
    -REVIEW ARCHIVES: Kate & Leopold (MRQE.com)
    -REVIEW ARCHIVES: Kate & Leopold (MetaCritic)
    -REVIEW: of Kate & Leopold (Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times)
    -REVIEW: of Kate & Leopold (James Berardinelli)
    -REVIEW: of Kate & Leopold (Michael Elliott, Movie Parables)
    -REVIEW: of Kate & Leopold (Douglas Downs , Christian Spotlight on the Movies)
    -REVIEW: of Kate & Leopold (Steven D. Greydanus, Decent Films)
    -REVIEW: of Kate & Leopold (Steven Issac, Focus on the Family)
    -REVIEW: of Kate & Leopold (David Bruce, Hollywood Jesus)
    -REVIEW: of Kate & Leopold (Mary Draughon, Preview)
    -REVIEW: of Kate & Leopold (Stephanie Zacharek, Salon)
    -REVIEW: of Kate & Leopold (Lisa Schwarzbaum, Entertainment Weekly)
    -REVIEW: of Kate & Leopold (Claudia Puig, USA TODAY)
    -REVIEW: of Kate & Leopold (STEPHEN HOLDEN, NY Times)
    -REVIEW: of Kate & Leopold (KEVIN THOMAS, LA Times)
    -REVIEW: of Kate & Leopold (Joe Leydon, The SF Examiner)
    -REVIEW: of Kate & Leopold (Carla Meyer, SF Chronicle)
    -REVIEW: of Kate & Leopold (Rita Kempley, Washington Post )
    -REVIEW: of Kate & Leopold (Carrie Rickey, Philadelphia Inquirer)
    -REVIEW: of Kate & Leopold (Peter Bradshaw, The Guardian)
    -REVIEW: of Kate & Leopold (Philip French, The Observer )
    -REVIEW: of Kate & Leopold (Laura Bushell, BBCi)
    -REVIEW: of Kate & Leopold (LIZ BRAUN, Toronto Sun)
    -REVIEW: of Kate & Leopold (LOUIS B. HOBSON, Calgary Sun)
    -REVIEW: of Kate & Leopold (Cynthia Fuchs, PopMatters)
    -REVIEW: of Kate & Leopold (Peter Keough, Boston Phoenix)
    -REVIEW: of Kate & Leopold (Ed Gonzalez, Slant)
    -REVIEW: of Kate & Leopold (Ella Taylor, LA Weekly)
    -REVIEW: of Kate & Leopold (Dennis Lim, Village Voice)
    -REVIEW: of Kate & Leopold (Catharine Tunnacliffe, Eye WEEKLY)

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