This is a long ways from the 1956 Oscar-winning Mike Todd film — and frankly, that suits me just fine. And, no, this film is most certainly not closely tied to the same-named Jules Verne novel — and I can’t say that bothers me a whole lot either. I also can’t say that Around the World in 80 Days is actually a good movie.
The film is ragged. It’s often badly paced. It boasts a screenplay that operates on the premise that a clever CGI transition (think Moulin Rouge! on a $1.95 budget) is a good substitute for narrative coherence. (How do our heroes get over the Himalayas? Who cares? Just slap in a fanciful montage to take us to the next location!)
I’ll also note that the movie just tries too damn hard to please for about the first 15 minutes — like an annoying puppy that wants you to love it. However, once it settles down a little, 80 Days becomes a pretty enjoyable comic-action romp that’s ultimately about twice as much fun as a lot of technically better movies I could name. It’s silly, goofy and sloppy — and yet it so completely embraces its own absurdity that, in the end, it works.
A lot of its success is owed to the personal charm of three of its four stars: Jackie Chan, Steven Coogan and Jim Broadbent (the less said about Cecile De France, the better; she’s decorative enough for the purposes of the film). Chan seems to be recognizing his age, and has found a far more effective way of dealing with his physical limitations than the approach taken with The Tuxedo and The Medallion. Rather than relegate his stunts to the effects department (in which case, there’s no longer much point in it being Jackie Chan), he’s chosen to design his fight scenes less as a showcase for his performing talents and more for his cleverness as a choreographer. Just check out his fight with the villainous henchmen of Gen. Fang (Karen Joy Morris) at an Impressionist-painting show, and you’ll see what I mean. 80 Days is a good move on Chan’s part.
Steve Coogan (the British comedian-actor who voiced the snake in Ella Enchanted) makes a pleasantly quirky Phileas Fogg (as redefined by the script). He gamely copes with the requirements of a role that mixes bizarre genius with aloofness — and the hint that he might have a taste for dressing up in women’s clothes, and possibly for naked men! (Worry not about the kids; this is done in a purely PG-rated manner.)
And then there’s that great scene-stealer, Jim Broadbent, as the ill-tempered, dishonest and conniving Lord Kelvin, who makes the bet with Fogg that he can’t go around the world in 80 days. Taking his cue from his own name, Broadbent plays the character as broadly as possible, which works in the film’s favor. The screenplay is a help here (in other places, it’s not), affording this great actor the film’s choicest lines (“What good is it hiring a corrupt police officer if he can’t even abuse the law properly?”) and cleverest bits (the revelation of the origin of Salisbury steak is a gem). Yet, when it’s all said and done, it’s Broadbent who carries it off.
Good humor and a surprising amount of style from director Frank Coraci (one of Adam Sandler’s “buds,” and helmer of a couple Sandler flicks) carries the rest. Coraci’s participation probably explains the always-unwelcome presence of another Sandler pal, Rob Schneider, as one of the guest stars. (Thankfully, Schneider’s turn is too short to be painful.) Most of the generally obscure guest stars are given little to do, except for Arnold Schwarzenegger as a libidinous Turkish prince. Looking a bit saggy, but expressing some sense of humor about himself, Der Arnold shows that it was probably time for him to turn to politics. Kathy Bates, on the other hand, really scores as Queen Victoria, and adds to the fun.
As I said, this is no great film — or even a particularly good one. But as pure fun, Around the World in 80 Days does nicely. A word of warning, though: When the film was picked up by Disney for distribution, it also inherited a dreadful reggae version of “It’s a Small World After All,” performed by the Baja Men across the ending credits. Do yourself a favor and get out before it starts.
– reviewed by Ken Hanke