Eccentric Victorian inventor Phileas Fogg (Steve Coogan, "24 Hour Party People," "Coffee and Cigarettes") rankles the Minister of the Royal Science Academy who believes in the status quo. In order to get rid of Fogg once and for all, Lord Kelvin (Jim Broadbent, "Moulin Rouge") makes an outrageous bet - Fogg will never invent again if he loses, but win Kelvin's Minister position if he can travel "Around the World in 80 Days."
This is a bright, colorful, corny throwback to 1960s entertainments like "Those Daring Young Men in Their Jaunty Jalopies" and the 1956 original telling of this Jules Verne tale, but those films didn't have the eye popping antics of Jackie Chan. A couple of the guest appearances fall disastrously flat, but the three leading costars have wonderful charisma and many of the cameos are charming.
In this remake, Fogg's valet Passepartout (Jackie Chan) is hiding his own secret agenda. Lau Xing is on a mission to retrieve a sacred jade Buddha from the Bank of England and return it to its rightful place in his village of Lanzhou. With the police on his tail, Xing arrives at Fogg's estate just in time to masquerade as a French valet applicant. The duo travel to Paris and Passepartout spots members of the Black Scorpions waiting for him, so he diverts Fogg to a science exhibition. The exhibition is really for Impressionist painters (the filmmakers play fast and loose with the definition as Van Gogh and Toulouse-Lautrec are prominently featured), a concept the scientific Fogg rejects, but he is drawn to a fanciful painting of a man in flight by coat check girl Monique (Cecile de France, "L'Auberge Espagnole"), who becomes the third traveler against Fogg's objections. Monique and Passepartout make a pact when she guesses the valet's real mission.
The threesome have one adventure after another as they pass through Turkey and India, now classified as wanted for the Bank of England robbery by Lord Kelvin, who is not only in cahoots with Scorpion leader General Fang (Karen Joy Morris, "Fallen Angels"), but has also sent the hapless Inspector Fix (Ewen Bremner, "Trainspotting") to 'fix' the wager's outcome. When our heroes arrive in Lanzhou, Fogg finally realizes the deception and, upset by the complicity of his friend and potential romantic interest, sets off towards San Francisco alone. After a flatly unfunny interlude featuring Rob Schneider ("50 First Dates") as a hobo, Fogg is rescued by Xing and Monique who have followed to help him win the science ministry. The United States is covered by one run in with the Wright Brothers (Owen and Luke Wilson, "Bottle Rocket") and a dustup with the Scorpions in a warehouse storing the yet-to-be-erected Statue of Liberty. An Atlantic steamer journey that will not get them to their destination on time forces Fogg to come up with his most brilliant invention yet.
Director Frank Coraci ("The Waterboy") seems like an odd choice for this project, but except for his unfortunate casting of buddy Schneider, he sets the tone for this sweeping adventure tale just left of center, a family entertainment with sprinklings of offbeat humor. Production designer Perry Andelin Blake ("The Waterboy") provides an old world feel to locations (Thailand stands in for China and India while Berlin! stands in for London and Paris) with the color palette favored in the days of technicolor. Perhaps the most enchanting aspect of the visuals are the magically real animated sequences which introduce each new destination as a location on a map that gradually segue back into the film. Several nice puns, like Lady Liberty sneezing or Passepartout getting an idea while standing under the picture of a light bulb, are goosed by sound effects which add to the pictorial. Costumes (Anna Sheppard, "Schindler's List") and makeup also reflect a retro filmmaking style, right down to de France's 1960's style Cleopatra eyeliner application.
The marvelous Steve Coogan brings the fastidious Fogg alive with just the right mixture of reserve and daring do, not to mention a newfound penchant for wearing women's clothing. De France is an appealing love interest with plucky adventurous spirit, her real French accent perhaps turned up a comic notch. Chan, who also choreographed all the fight sequences, hasn't integrated this much comedy into his kung fu in a number of pictures, delighting whether creating an impromptu painting or taking out a heavily armed assassin with just a wooden bench. (A polite good morning from Chan to the occupant of an English carriage he's whirling around at fifty miles per hour is a nice nod to the mores of Victorian times.)
Broadbent, all mutton-chopped and vested, gives good British bluster as the duplicitous and arrogant Royal Science Minister, ably assisted by a trio of toadying adjuncts played by Ian McNeice, David Ryall and Roger Hammond. As Fang, Morris is all about her prosthetic fingernails. Besides Schneider, the most embarrassing guest star turn is by the miscast Arnold Schwarzenegger as Turkish Prince Hapi. Wearing a frightful wig, Schwarzenegger does nothing to hide his Austrian accent nor can he overcome poor writing that strains to develop an incident over a Rodin sculpture. The best and brightest surprise appearance is from Kathy Bates ("About Schmidt") as an impish Queen Victoria, while Mark Addy ("The Full Monty") is the most delightfully odd as the Steamer Captain. The Wilsons do their regular schtick as the Wrights while Virgin Airlines CEO Richard Branson is the most cleverly cast manning a hot air balloon attraction. John Cleese gets all of two lines as a London bobby and singer Macy Gray spends most of her screen time asleep. Of non-famous note is Poon Yin Chi who's a hoot as Lau Xing's diminutive mom.
"Around the World in 80 Days" is kind of square in a kind of hip way, a fond recreation of old style family entertainment.
Robin did not see this film.
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