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Around The World In 80 Days
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Around The World In 80 Days

cast: Jackie Chan, Steve Cooghan, Cécile De France, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Jim Broadbent
director: Frank Coraci
115 minutes (PG) 2004
widescreen ratio 2.35:1
EIV DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 6/10
reviewed by Patrick Hudson
This film is not an adaptation of Jules Verne's 1873 novel Le Tour du monde en quatre-vingt jours, but rather a loose remake of the 1956 film Around The World In 80 Days (which starred David Niven), itself only loosely based on the events in Verne's novel. In his classic novels, Verne wrote action-packed scientific romances, celebrating the growing role of technology in Victorian Europe. It seems to be his fate to be interpreted in English as a juvenile author, and films based on his work inevitably follow the same pattern.

This version, starring Steve Coogan as Phileas Fogg and Jackie Chan as Passepartout, sticks to the cartoonish, family-friendly formula. Coogan plays Fogg as a lovable, head-in-the-clouds boffin who is thirsty for knowledge beyond the limitations imposed by the conservative bureaucrats of the Royal Society, embodied in the unlikely figure of the eminent Victorian scientist and peer Lord Kelvin (Jim Broadbent). Standing in for the familiar Reform Club bet for �20,000, Kelvin bets Fogg the leadership of the Royal Society itself if he can traverse the globe in 80 days. Kelvin and his cronies (Lords Salisbury, Kitchener and Rhodes) then proceed to do their best to thwart Fogg's mission lest he prove himself the better scientist.

Along for the ride is Jackie Chan as Passepartout, on the run from the law after stealing a jade Buddha from the British Museum. This is part of a complicated subplot involving an evil Chinese warlord, General Fang (Karen Joy Morris), which ties Chan's martial arts into the story. In France, they pick up tea lady and wannabe impressionist painter Monique La Roche (Cécile De France) to provide Fogg's love interest.

Pursued by Inspector Fix (Ewen Bremner) and Fang's lackeys, the gang get through various comic scrapes to finally achieve their goal. Along the way, Fogg learns that love and dreams are more important than science, and falls for the beautiful artist who has learned to look beneath Fogg's nerdy exterior to see the beauty of his heart. As with every movie aimed at younger viewers these days, it commends the viewer to follow their dreams, trust their heart and believe in themselves.

Like its predecessor, this is part of a tradition of films based on comically old-fashioned situations relying on celebrity cameos to jolly them along. This sub-genre really flowered in the 1960s, with title movies like It's A Mad Mad Mad Mad World (1963), Those Magnificent Men In Their Flying Machines (1965) and Those Daring Young Men in Their Jaunty Jalopies (1969), packing the houses with their mix of slapstick, crazy effects, a love story and maybe a song or two on the way. It's a bit of an old fashioned idea now, but this film follows the formula including cameos from Macy Gray, Mark Addy, Arnold Schwarzengegger (in uncharacteristically good comic form), Mark Addy, Rob Schneider, Owen and Jack Wilson and Jackie Chan's regular off-sider, Sammo Hung.

Needless to say, the action here has only a passing similarity to Verne's novel. Most tellingly, the heavy-handed anti-science theme of this film will likely have Verne spinning in his grave faster than the mighty dynamos that he imagined powering the world. Even more alarming is the portrayal of Kelvin, a prodigious inventor and theoriser, a great man of science and precisely the type that Verne lionised in his fiction. Here he is a vacuous pantomime villain, a characterisation so wrong, on so many levels, that it verges on slander.

Coogan does a reasonable job with Fogg, but I struggle to find him a convincing romantic hero. De France is suitably glamorous and smiles fetchingly when she talks about rainbows, dreams and following your heart. However, the movie really belongs to Chan - an executive producer - and your enjoyment of it will depend largely on your enjoyment (or tolerance) of Chan's style of martial arts and slapstick stunts. Despite his undeniable physical abilities, his comic acting (in English, at least) is rudimentary - it's a pretty poor show when Ah-nuld provides a funnier turn than the comic lead!

This is a passable comedy adventure for younger viewers, but the cameos and weak jokes don't quite sustain adult interest. As such, you can delete a mark for adults, but kids will probably get a kick out of it.

Extras on the DVD are scene selection, a director's commentary, an alternate opening, deleted scenes (most deservedly so), a making-of featurette and Jackie Chan's video diaries. Some of this may hold interest (the deleted scenes and alternate opening are at least brief) but one wonders if this run-of-the-mill comedy really deserves a second viewing just to hear the director narrate the details of production.

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