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Miramax takes a little off the top of ‘Leopold’

Studio recuts second pic in as many weeks

HOLLYWOOD — Time-travel romance “Kate & Leopold” will roll into theaters on Christmas Day a few minutes shorter than when critics got their first look at it.

It’s the second time this month, after “The Shipping News,” that Miramax has taken the unusual, and costly, step of trimming scenes from a pic that had already preemed and taken some lumps from critics.

In the romantic comedy, gone are references that allude to Kate, played by Meg Ryan, having any genetic relation to her 21st-century boyfriend, played by Liev Schreiber. As screened for the press, the film established Schreiber as a descendant of Hugh Jackman’s Leopold, who is seen planning to wed Kate at pic’s end.

Reviewing pic last week on their syndie review show, “At the Movies,” Roger Ebert and Richard Roeper groused that the incest implication left them cold.

Also pruned is an opening scene in which Ryan fleetingly appears in the background of a 19th-century party.

And in an ironic twist, helmer James Mangold cut a sequence in which he makes a cameo as a director whose feature is being altered to meet the demands of a test screening.

“Kate & Leopold” has been tracking well as the only date movie for the holiday frame. But its release date has been buffeted around, first moving up from 2002, then being bumped a week to create more breathing space for “The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring.”

That delay gave Mangold an opportunity to tinker.

“Comedy is all about a relationship between the audience and the screen,” helmer said. “It’s about how it plays. There was a strand of dialogue which we thought was innocuous but was, in fact, distracting some people from the story — so we lifted it. When I opened up the reels for this fix, I tightened some other cuts in the film. These few changes had nothing to do with market research.”