Around the World in 80 Days (2004) / Adventure-Action

MPAA Rated: PG for violence, some crude humor and mild language
Running Time: 125 min.

Cast: Steve Coogan, Jackie Chan, Cecile De France, Jim Broadbent, Ewen Bremmer, Karen Joy Morris, Robert Fyfe, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Kathy Bates, Sammo Hung, Daniel Wu
Director: Frank Coraci

Screenplay: David Titcher, David Benullo, David Andrew Goldstein (based on the novel by Jules Verne)
Review published June 18, 2004

Very loosely based on the classic Jules Verne novel, and made into a movie more than once already (most notably in 1956 with David Niven), Around the World in 80 Days is an old-fashioned adventure in the grandest of Disney traditions.  As such, there is one presiding goal that the creators of this "fun for all ages" flick keep in mind, and that is to entertain.  Taken on an entertainment level alone, and not as a serious adaptation or work of great art, director Frank Coraci's (The Wedding Singer, The Waterboy) vision does work, but only for younger audiences, and adults who are young at heart. 

Set in 1872, the film starts out with Passepartout (Chan, Rush Hour) knocking over a bank in England to obtain the precious jade Buddha contained within.  Trying to escape the authorities, he concocts a bit of trickery in getting hired by a local inventor, Phileas Fogg (Coogan, 24 Hour Party People), who is desperately trying to be recognized for his works, but the head of the country's exclusive club (Broadbent, Gangs of New York) for inventors won't take him seriously.  Out of pride, Fogg enters into a bet that will send him on a great adventure -- he must travel the circumference of the world in no more than 80 days time.  Should he win, he will be the head of the club that shunned him, and should he lose, he will lose everything, including the ability to invent again.  With everything at stake, Fogg and Passepartout begin their quest that leads to peril at almost every turn, including a crew of Chinese assassins out to make sure the mission fails.

Around the World in 80 Days is generally almost everything I don't like about movies -- predictable, derivative, and trite -- and yet, it won me over with surprising ease.  The reasons are many, so I shall stick with a few of the important ones.

Although the predictability is inherent, the fact that the scenery and characters are ever changing does manage to keep the interest high.  Each stop along the way find a different set of people and places to encounter, each with new difficulties that amend the main story.  Although some stops are more entertaining than others, none of them run on longer than they should, and even when the film looks like it's about to sag, it changes completely a moment later. 

The various cameos help a great deal.  It is nice to see some familiar faces, with some funny moments provided by Arnold Schwarzenegger (The Terminator, Conan the Barbarian), singer Macy Gray, Rob Schneider (50 First Dates, The Hot Chick), Luke and Owen Wilson (Bottle Rocket, The Royal Tenenbaums), John Cleese (A Fish Called Wanda, Rat Race) and Kathy Bates (About Schmidt, Primary Colors).  For fans familiar with Jackie Chan's Hong Kong films, there are also cameo parts for Sammo Hung (Wheels on Meals, Dragons Forever), Daniel Wu (Love Undercover, 2000 AD), Karen Mok (Black Mask, The Vampire Effect), and Maggie Q (Naked Weapon).

The visual effects and music are also fantastic.  Trevor Jones (Dark City, Labyrinth) provides the rousing score, possibly his best to date.  Nice cinematography by Phil Meheux (The Mask of Zorro, The Core), along with some impressive sets and costumes, all make this a feast for the eyes and ears.  These are more than mere bells and whistles -- they are the lifeblood of the adventure.

Of course, the film would not be complete without the actors, and all of them are immensely enjoyable, perfectly suited to the family adventure that this is.  Comedian Steve Coogan, although perhaps too much of an unknown to head a big budget movie, easily fits into the part of Fogg with charm and wit.  Cecile De France (L'Auberge Espagnole) is a fetching romantic interest, exuding precisely the right spirit and grace the role necessitates.  And of course, there is the incomparable Jackie Chan, with a nice showcase to display his great fighting mixed with slapstick comedy.  Kudos also to Frank Coraci for being able to pull off a grand scale adventure of this magnitude and get it right. 

As said previously, this is a family film, meant for people of all ages, so don't expect it to ever color outside the lines for anything.  This is not a film for cinema snobs, Jules Verne purists (who should be used to unfaithful adaptations by now), or grinches expecting to see something they've never seen before.  This is a film created for children seeing these things for the first time and adults who enjoy revisiting the cinematic adventures like they remember from their childhood.  Box office failure and middling reviews notwithstanding, I believe the audience for this film will be found over time, and maybe, just maybe, it may follow in its predecessors footsteps and become a family favorite for generations to come.

Qwipster's rating:

2004 Vince Leo