There’s no question that Meg Ryan is the queen of romantic comedies; no actress working today can carry off the wistful and wacky demands of the genre as well as she, and no actor, male or female, is so closely associated with the category. Yet for every piece of frothy fluff that works — like, say, her two Tom Hanks/Nora Ephron collaborations — there comes a couple where you just want to say, “Enough already.” “Kate & Leopold” is one such movie. Mind you, Ryan is very much in her element in the (very familiar) role of Kate, a workaholic Big Apple market research executive who is (yawn) soured on the idea of love. Similarly, Hugh Jackman is charming and charismatic and proves his versatility as Leopold, a 19th Century British gentleman who comes to present day New York City by way of a wormhole discovered by Kate’s scientist ex (Liev Schreiber). (Yes, this movie takes the already unrealistic genre up another notch in fantasy.) But put the two together, and they fail the simple Alka Seltzer chemistry test: plop, plop, fizzle, fizzle, and no, what a relief it isn’t. The two individually likable stars do eventually reach some level of warmth, but by that time the film is nearly over and Kate and Leopold are supposed to be madly in love with each other.
The leads are no more mismatched, though, than the director is to the material; at the helm is James Mangold, he of the ultraserious films “Heavy,” “Cop Land,” and “Girl, Interrupted.” To say the least, he’s an unconventional choice for such a sunny popcorn movie, and the fact that he also had a hand in the script makes it all the more disappointing that the end result *is* so conventional. While Mangold thankfully keeps time-travel fish-out-of-water gags to a minimum–Leopold, who comes to invent the elevator, is a fairly quick study–he doesn’t offer any fresh spin to the tried-and-true rom-com recipe, and his technique does not adapt well to this genre; the plod of his characteristically icy pacing goes against the light-footed material, which is hence stretched uncomfortably near the two-hour mark. If only viewers were able to pass that time with the same quickness and ease the characters in “Kate & Leopold” are able to cross centuries.