Around The World In 80 Days Review
Here's a film so endearingly eccentric, I liked it as much for what it was attempting as for the finished result. Based very loosely on the Jules Verne novel, Around The World In 80 Days is a lavish, sprawling cross between a Jackie Chan martial arts movie and an old-fashioned, globe-trotting knockabout comedy. For all its flaws, and it doesn't come close to being a complete success, it never feels like a formula movie put together by a studio marketing department - probably because it wasn't, it was made by the independent Walden Media company. A studio might have balked at casting a comedian little known outside the UK in a $110 million production and they'd definitely not have approved of jokes which depend on the audience knowing a bit about Rodin and Van Gogh. Of course, judging by the film's grisly fate at the American box office, they might have had a point.
As the story begins in Victorian London, Lau Xing (Jackie Chan) is making his escape from the Bank of England, followed by a hoarde of whistle-blowing bobbies. Lau isn't really a criminal. He's merely stolen back the Jade Buddha, a valuable artifact taken from his Chinese village. Lau eludes his pursuers and hides in the garden of Phileas Fogg (Steve Coogan), a crackpot inventor who just happens to be looking for a new valet. Claiming somewhat unconvincingly to be a Frenchman named Passepartout, Lau nevertheless gets the job. Little does he know that by "valet", Fogg meant a dogsbody prepared to risk his life, testing dangerous inventions.
Despite the odd near-fatal accident, Lau develops a fondness for his employer and he's only too pleased when he sees an opportunity to help Fogg and at the same time return the Buddha to China. It comes when Fogg tells the pompous Minister of Science (Jim Broadbent) he believes it's possible to circumnavigate the globe in less than eighty days. The minister bets him he can't and Fogg accepts. However, the minister doesn't like to lose and he employs a crooked policeman (Ewen Bremner) to foil the inventor's plans, while the sinister Chinese warlord (Karen Mok) who robbed Lau's village is after the pair to get her Buddha back. Also providing a distraction, albeit a more pleasant one is Monique La Roche (Cécile De France), a budding French painter who invites herself along for the ride.
Around The World In 80 Days only wants to entertain and, up to a point, it succeeds. Working against it are a two hour running time, half an hour too long for such a slight comedy, and an episodic and repetitive structure which includes no less than three big climaxes. It doesn't help that the biggest and best, the battle in the village, takes place half-way through. There's a sense that the screenwriters crammed so much into the story that they lost control and it was all they could do to tie everything up. There's a lot of material that would not be missed had it been trimmed. The entire Indian episode is one big, expensive fight scene too many. A little tightening up at the script stage might have produced a movie that worked as a whole instead of in fits and starts.
On a more positive note, I was pleased that Steve Coogan's uniquely British brand of humour made it to the screen more or less intact. His Phileas Fogg is a gallant buffoon not a million miles from The Parole Officer or a less self-infatuated Alan Partridge. He gets laughs just from the sheer unlikelihood of his presence in a Hollywood action film. Another surprise is how well done the fight scenes are. Director Frank Coraci, who has only a couple of Adam Sandler comedies under his belt, handles Jackie Chan's patented blend of martial arts and knockabout comedy perfectly well. Chan himself is as agreeable as ever and Cécile De France makes a spirited love interest. Jim Broadbent on the other hand has done his blustering bully act too many times and Ewen Bremner should never again attempt to play Lee Evans. In a tip of the hat to the earlier 1956 adaptation which starred David Niven as Fogg, this version also features a number of famous faces in cameo roles, Western and Eastern. I won't spoil them even if the trailers do.