Kate & Leopold

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Meg Ryan has carved out a niche that should be named after her, where she plays perky career women who find love in New York City, often with Tom Hanks.

In “Kate & Leopold,” her character is named Kate McKay (not to be confused with “You’ve Got Mail,” where she was Kathleen Kelly), and she is a marketing research executive who occasionally shows romantic comedies to test audiences to see what they like. Kate lives her life this way, too: She likes her relationships to be normal, straightforward, and typical. She doesn’t believe in catering to the small minority with different tastes and opinions; she prefers to make everything as fully marketable and mass-appealish as possible.

“Kate & Leopold” presents her this way without irony, even though you are no doubt already seeing it emerge: Meg Ryan, who plays the same role in every movie, is playing a woman who for that reason would probably be Meg Ryan’s biggest fan.

Her ex-boyfriend, would-be inventor Stuart (Liev Schreiber), lives in the apartment above hers and is one day joined by a guest. It is Leopold (Hugh Jackman), a very proper British noble whom Stuart has snatched from history (1876, specifically) and brought forward through a naturally occurring time portal. (In the version of the film shown to critics, Leopold was Stuart’s great-grandfather. This gives a reason for his being chosen, but it also means Stuart’s ex-girlfriend wound up with Stuart’s great-grandfather, which presents some thorny DNA issues. Thus, the film has been re-edited to remove Stuart and Leopold’s kinship.)

Leopold is unfailingly polite and charming, and Jackman does some of his best work to date in a role that allows him to be funny and affable while also setting female audience members’ undergarments on fire. Leopold and Kate are destined for each other, naturally, though she has a hard time believing he’s actually from 1876, as does her actor brother Charlie (Breckin Meyer).

Much of the film is devoted to the budding romance between the title characters, though in the background we remember a point mentioned right off: Leopold has to go back to the past at a certain time next Monday, or else he’ll be stuck here forever. Whatever will they do?

Director James Margold (“Girl, Interrupted”) has this film firmly entrenched in romance, pushing all the buttons that make women coo and men roll their eyes. There are Gershwin songs in the score, for crying out loud. Margold has fashioned quite a good date movie, though, leaving out the embarrassing sex and nudity and leaving in enough actual comedy — and solid stuff, too — to keep everyone happy.

The script, by Mangold and Steven Rogers, has some sloppy points that need to be mentioned. First is the obligatory public speech at the end, where Kate has to make her decision and embarrass herself. (The fact that Meg Ryan is apparently now sleepwalking through these performances doesn’t help it any.) Second is a series of anachronisms: Leopold references Jack the Ripper, who didn’t come on the scene until 1888; he says he saw the world premiere of “The Pirates of Penzance,” which wasn’t until 1879 (and he gets the story wrong, too); he refers to Thomas Edison and the light bulb, also a few years too early. I found all this information on the Internet in less than five minutes; surely one of the two screenwriters could have done the same.

But I’m awarding extra points to Mangold and Rogers for NOT including a bunch of bad time-travel comedy — you know, where Leopold walks out into the streets and says, “What are these strange horseless carriages that roar like lions? They will not devour me, will they?,” or where he tries to drink out of a toilet or something. Leopold is a bit freaked out at first, but he gets over it fast, thank goodness.

The plot is all over the place, with Kate using Leopold as a TV-commercial pitchman, Charlie using Leopold’s expertise in wooing women, and Kate’s boss (Bradley Whitford) attempting sexual harassment against her. None of these really goes anywhere; they are amusing diversions while we’re waiting for Kate and Leopold to get together. The whole movie, in fact, is an amusing diversion while we’re waiting for something better to come along.

B- (; PG-13, some scattered profanity.)

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