Oscar Movie Month: "Around the World in 80 Days" Review

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A bet pits a British inventor, a Chinese thief, and a French artist on a worldwide adventure that they can circle the globe in 80 days.
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Rating: PG
Length: 120 minutes
Release Date: June 16, 2004
Directed by: Frank Coraci
Genre: Comedy / Adventure

The film "Around the World in 80 Days" is a rollicking comedy adventure starring Jackie Chan, Steve Coogan and Cecile De France. Based very loosely on the classic Jules Verne novel of the same name, the story follows the adventures of the naive but ambitious inventor Phileas Fogg (Coogan) as he tries to win a high-stakes bet with the stuffy and corrupt Lord Kelvin. The wager involves circling the globe in a mere 80 days, which was no mean feat in 1872. He is joined by a desperate thief named Passepartout (Chan), who poses as a French valet who has stolen a valuable jade Buddha from a British bank. He means to return it to its rightful owners back in China. Through many comedic shenanigans in many exotic locations, the two form an unlikely friendship.

The story is familiar to anyone who read the original Verne novel or who has seen earlier film adaptations of it. After making the rash bet, Fogg and Passepartout set out across Europe, Asia, America and two oceans in a race against time. In this version, they face sabotage not only from Fogg's rivals but from a mysterious Chinese warlord and her henchmen who is after the jade Buddha in Passepartout's possession.

The film takes a great many liberties with the original source material, using Verne's novel for little more than a general outline of events. As the film is meant to be an action-driven farce, this is much less of a hindrance than it might be in a more serious adaptation. Not all the changes work, but those that do only add to the movie's atmosphere of slapstick comedy and goofy charm.

Jackie Chan is the big draw of "Around the World in Eighty Days" and is in top form here. He has often been called the modern inheritor to Buster Keaton, and it shows through in his many fighting sequences where he uses the most mundane objects for wild comedic effect to defend himself from the bad guys. He steals just about every scene he is in, mugging comedically for the camera in place of any real acting and apparently just enjoying himself. He never lets the audience forget that it is all in good fun. The highlights of the film's action include a battle between thieves and villagers in the mountains of China, and there is a showdown with the warlord in a New York City warehouse containing the disassembled Statue of Liberty.

Steve Coogan's Fogg serves as a straight man to Chan's Passepartout, stiff and introverted where his erstwhile valet is ebullient and outgoing. An ardent dreamer and obsessed inventor, he was patterned in some ways after Verne himself, a shy but enthusiastic visionary of the future. He has a number of funny lines and a character arc in which he learns to embrace the more passionate side of life, but he is almost always overshadowed by Chan.

Cecile De France plays Monique La Roche, an aspiring artist whom the pair pick up in Paris. She lends some streetwise common sense to the group and serves as the inevitable love interest for Fogg. While the actress does a fine job, the movie could have done perfectly fine without her character. Except for the romance angle, she provides neither any major service to the plot nor any humor to the shenanigans.

Part of the film's unique draw is its many celebrity cameos in brief but memorable secondary roles. Arnold Schwarzenegger provides a standout hilarious performance as the egomaniacal Turkish Prince Hapi, who becomes smitten with Monique. Luke and Owen Wilson show up as the Wright brothers, John Cleese puts in a turn as an insufferable British sergeant and Kathy Bates chews up some scenery as Queen Victoria. Ewen Bremner as Inspector Fix, the dimwitted British inspector hired to doggedly pursue the pair of heroes and trip them up however he can, delivers a brilliantly over-the-top performance as the film's often-abused punching bag.

"Around the World in 80 Days" is not a perfect film. Occasionally, its humor falls flat, the female lead seems extraneous and the jade Buddha subplot comes across as forced. However, these are all minor quibbles for a movie that is meant as nothing more than two hours of action and laughs. With awesome kung fu action as only Jackie Chan can deliver, along with good laughs and rollicking adventure, "Around the World in 80 Days" is a film well worth seeking out.

Rating: 3 out of 5