What can one say about a movie like Around the World in 80 Days? Those familiar with Jules Verne’s book or the movie from 1956 will recognize the basic story and the fanciful tone. But in order to accommodate Jackie Chan, the plot has been dented, squeezed, and contorted, then welded to the standard Jackie Chan plot, namely, the return of stolen Chinese artifacts.
Around the World in 80 Days is the kind of movie you should see if you’re looking for an excuse to sit in an air-conditioned theater for two hours, and you’ve already seen all the good movies. 80 Days is good enough to pass the time, but not much more.
In the Name of Science
PG for action violence, crude humor, language
Chan’s sidekick character gets top billing over Steve Coogan (24 Hour Party People), playing the lead. He has stolen The Jade Buddha (a.k.a. The Jade McGuffin) from the Bank of England, after it had been stolen from his village in China. On the lam in London, he finds a cover story working for the inventor Phileas Fogg (Coogan). He adopts the name Passepartout until he can find passage back home to China and return the figurine.
Fogg has his head in the clouds. He’s always working on some copper-and-steam contraption, looking for ways to improve speed and efficiency. He invented wheeled shoes and a steam-powered car that accelerates Passepartout to the unheard-of velocity of 50 miles per hour.
Fogg is a junior member of the Royal Academy of Science. The senior members (among them Jim Broadbent and Ian McNeice) dismiss his inventions as fanciful and impractical, and frankly, they don’t like him. When Fogg starts pontificating about being able to circle the globe in 80 days, Lord Kitchener (Broadbent) makes him a bet. Fogg gets the Chair at the Academy if he makes it, and if not, he gives up his membership and his career.
The third wheel of their globe-trot joins them in Paris. Monique La Roche (Cecile De France) is a painter whose style is ahead of its time; it won’t come into vogue until refrigerator magnets are invented.
Since Around the World in 80 Days is a Jackie Chan movie, it is formatted as a comedy adventure with plenty of choreographed fight and chase scenes. Chan is no spring chicken, so there aren’t any jaw-dropping stunts, but his fight choreography is still better than what most movies offer (e.g., The Chronicles of Riddick).
Steve Coogan gets his first big-budget lead, if you don’t count the art-house hit 24 Hour Party people. Coogan is not as refined or classy as David Niven, but he’s every bit as British. He’s as good a foil for Jackie Chan as Chris Tucker or Owen Wilson (who has a cameo).
Wilson is not the only familiar face, either. Like the ‘56 film, Around the World in 80 Days is packed with cameo appearances. Luke Wilson plays Owen’s brother; Kathy Bates, Rob Schneider, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, John Cleese, Chan collaborator Sammo Hung, and billionaire balloonist Richard Branson are only the first that spring to mind.
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But while cameos may give a little thrill of recognition, they don’t really add much to the movie. In fact, there really isn’t much to this mess of a movie at all. The love story is tacked-on, and the lessons about friendship and doing what you believe ring completely hollow. They exist only as a sort of evolutionary vestige like an appendix, included not for any purpose but because it’s easier to include them than to throw them away.
There are ahistorical flights of fancy, like the invention of the Slinky or the Wright Brothers selling bikes in California, which are meant as winks and nods at the audience. They’re cute, but uninspired and meaningless.
In the end, Around the World in 80 Days is very lightweight entertainment. It is fluff. There are laughs to be had, and it’s not a complete waste of two hours, but that’s all that can be said in its favor.