This year saw the American remake of Les Visiteurs, a French, fish-out-of-water story about two medieval knights brought forward to modern times. There are countless versions of this story. Martin Lawrence travels back in time in Black Knight. A Knight’s Tale features modern rock music over a medieval setting. Back and back the stories go, to Mark Twain telling of a Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court.
Kate and Leopold, then, offers little to nothing new. If it is to be credited for any originality, it is only for taking the genre out of the hands of adolescent males and putting it into the hands of women. Where Just Visiting focused on toilet humor, Kate and Leopold focuses on chivalry, romance, and slow-steeping passion.
Leopold and Kate
The year is 1887. Leopold (Hugh Jackman, who is proving to be a very good actor) is an English duke living in New York. He’s doomed to marry a woman he doesn’t love in order to appease his father. Easily distracted from the chore of marriage, he decides to chase after a suspicious-looking fellow (Liev Schriber) with odd-looking devices. He follows him to a precipitous drop off a bridge. Both of them fall and land 120 years later in modern New York.
Kate is a market researcher. Screenwriters James Mangold (who also directed) and Steven Rogers summed up her professional caricature perfectly by having her utter “I don’t care if it’s crass. Give me the truth. Give me the bottom line, straight, no chaser.” Outside of work, Kate is a little more human, but she still has some of that manic, down-to-business energy that Meg Ryan is so good at.
The two title characters meet through Stuart (Schriber), who is both the suspicious-looking man in 1887, and Kate’s ex-boyfriend who lives in the apartment above hers. Stuart discovered a rip in the space-time continuum that allows him to move between the present and 1887. The next opening in the rip is a week later, meaning Stuart and Leopold are stuck together in 2001 for a week.
When Stuart is hospitalized, Leopold is left in the jungle of modern New York with only one acquaintance — Kate. Their initial hostility toward each other is just part of the chemistry.
Lite Comic Subplots
Comic subplots keep the movie entertaining for 90 minutes. One of the these involves Kate’s brother Charlie (Breckin Meyer), an actor, who figures Leopold’s odd manner and dress is the outward sign of a great method actor, staying in character for a part.
Kate is a market researcher. Her latest challenge is to sell fat-free margarine. She enlists Leopold, with his natural class and charm, knowing that the target audience of bored housewives will swoon (“what a hunk”, says the focus group, which is probably what test audiences said about Jackman).
But alas, there’s no more substance in Kate and Leopold than there is in fat-free margarine.
Reportedly, French audiences liked Les Visiteurs so well because, beyond the temporal fish-out-of-water jokes, there was an underlying commentary on the progress of French culture. That sort of theme could give a Kate and Leopold a lasting importance.
The film almost introduces something more meaningful than comic subplots. Leopold knows Kate is in market research, but he doesn’t realize that means lying to people through advertising. This discovery horrifies him and he begins to view the noble Lady Kate as a whore. But the moment passes and romance and banality win out in the end.
The Perfect Film-Product
Still, Kate and Leopold should entertain the masses and also do well at the box office. It has a sci-fi, time-travel premise to lure the men to the theaters, and it features a chivalrous, handsome, refined star to appeal to women. Throw in a little comedy to please everyone, and you’ve got the perfect film-product. Tastes great and won’t go to your thighs.