Around the World in 80 Days
June 16th, 2004
Ripping apart the Jules Verne classic, the new "Around the World in 80 Days" replaces adventure, fascination, and fun with Jackie Chan and his never ending stunts. Co-stars Steve Coogan and Cecile De France help the picture big time in the charm department, and the film does feature a nice, blistering pace for the easily bored. But director Frank Coraci is in over his head, and his first instinct is to throw visual effects at the screen to make problems disappear. Which is why this family film version of "80 Days" isn't the winner it should be.
Phileas Fogg (Steve Coogan, “24 Hour Party People”) is an anxious English inventor who is obsessed with impressing The Royal Academy of Science, run by the snooty Lord Kelvin (Jim Broadbent, paying bills). Tired of Fogg’s antics and extreme inventions, Lord Kelvin challenges Fogg to cross the globe in 80 days, the reward being a chance to run the Academy with Lord Kelvin’s removal from office. Fogg accepts and takes his accidental new valet, Passepartout (Jackie Chan, who also produces), with him on this perilous journey. But Passepartout has his own reasons for joining Fogg: he must return a stolen “Jade Buddha” to his homeland in China, evading a team of deadly assassins (lead by Karen Mok) along the way, as well as make sure Fogg has his tea on time.
Jules Verne’s adventure, “Around the World in 80 Days,” has been adapted in practically every decade since the film industry was formed, most famously in a 1956 epic comedy, starring David Niven and Cantinflas. This latest incarnation of the famous race around the globe has taken a very different path: that of a Jackie Chan film, complete with heavily choreographed fight sequences and stacks of slapstick. If Jules Verne could see what Chan has done to his story, I’m sure he would weep for 80 days.
Directed by the inexperienced Frank Coraci (“The Wedding Singer,” “The Waterboy”), the new “80 Days” seems to throw a big pile of cash (there is a load of CGI in the film, in place of actual locations) at the screen whenever their halfhearted story has failed them. To combat this perception, Coraci and Chan load the film up with fight sequences and stunts, most of which, like in almost every recent Chan film, are basically the same mix of silly pratfalls and PG slap fights that are, frankly, becoming an eyesore. Chan is unquestionably a spirited performer, and the film’s twist in focus, making Passepartout the lead character of the tale, clearly states from the opener that this isn’t your father’s “80 Days.” This one is strictly for the kids who love their Chan.
Mercifully, “80 Days” is paced furiously enough to wiz by before the absence of quality can get a chance to sink in. Coraci knows what he’s doing by mounting a brightly colored action film, and every scene of this picture contains some type of visual that keeps the mind at bay. However, there is a distinct lack of character in the characters found in this new incarnation, and the film is only marginally interested in Fogg’s internal journey as he opens his eyes to people and cultures; that’s been hastily replaced by a team of flipping ninjas and this “Jade Buddha” nonsense.
What really rescues the film are the performances outside of Chan. Steve Coogan is a perfect choice for the uptight, eternally curious Fogg. Coogan is blessed with crack comic timing and an appreciable level of wonder in his performance, helping to sell the raging artificial splendor of “80 Days.” Matching him note for note in the charm department is actress Cecile De France, a French actress making her Hollywood debut here as a Parisian distraction for Fogg and Passepartout. With her gigantic eyes and jubilant bubble gum spirit, De France is a welcomed sight to the insignificant role of the love interest, and her chemistry with Coraci’s pace is a nice fit.
This wouldn’t be a true “80 Days” production if there weren’t any cameos. The quality of the secret stars presented here are a little low on wattage (Rob Schneider?), but fun nonetheless, including a turn by the current governor of California. They boost a sagging story, and add grease to an already blistering pace. Blink, and you actually might miss them.
My rating: C-