Meg Ryan didn’t have much luck in the past century with men, so who could blame her for checking out the 19th? Only those who prefer movie heroines not to spurn the few gains women have made over the past 125 years. Ryan’s Kate is a successful New York ad executive — which makes her, in Hollywood terms, a miserable failure. No wonder she has no boyfriend and has only harsh words for her ex, Stuart (Liev Schreiber), and his wacky dreams of inventing time travel (actually, she has harsh words for everyone).
But Stuart has found the secret of journeying back into the past, to 1876, when people can still proclaim, without sniggering, that the newly built Brooklyn Bridge is the world’s greatest erection. Inadvertently, however, he brings back with him his distant relation Duke Leopold (Hugh Jackman, who may have peaked as Wolverine). Charmingly useless, with dreams of his own, Leopold seduces Kate into embracing a bygone world where aristocrats enjoyed wistful idleness and women were baubles — as opposed to our modern madness where people work and tell lies about butter substitutes. After a promising start (Heavy, Cop Land), director James Mangold has regressed beyond nostalgia and into inanity, the same way this film does.