Set in 1890, the story focuses on Passepartout, a Chinese thief who steals a valuable jade Buddha and then seeks refuge in the traveling companionship of an eccentric London inventor and adventurer, Phileas Fogg, who has taken on a bet with members of his gentlemen's club that he can make it around the world in a mere 80 days, using a variety of means of transportation, like boats, trains, balloons, elephants, etc. Along the way, Passepartout uses his amazing martial arts abilities to defend Fogg from the many dangers they face.. One major threat to their adventure is a detective that's following them. Why? Just as Fogg and Passeportout left London, a major bank was robbed, with Fogg suspected of using the "around the world" trip as an excuse to escape.. Their path from London and back includes stops in Paris, Turkey, India, China and USA. Written by
It's a Fun Film Folks, Not a Serious Re-make of a Classic
There are classic films and fun films and even, very rarely, fun films that become classics. That's certainly true of Mike Todd's 1956 "Around the World in 80 Days" which captured much of the fantastical verve of Jules Verne's original story. That movie also introduced, basically for the first time, the idea of an onslaught of cameo appearances by famous screen stars, not always readily identifiable.
So now as we start to bake at the beginning of a long, languid summer, new director Frank Coraci gives us the irrepressible but getting a bit long-in-the-tooth master acrobat/gymnast/kung-fu artist/stunt man Jackie Chan in a very loose adaptation of the Verne novel.
Chan is Passepartout, valet to the inimitably neurotic inventor, Phineas Fogg (Steve Coogan), but in this film his real identity is that of a Chinese fellow, Lau Xing, whose mission is to return a stolen Buddha statue to his village. Nefarious English lords have an imperialistic and self-aggrandizing plan of their own which includes tearing down the Great Wall of China to get easy access to jade mines. Jim Broadbent is superbly Victorian-evil as Lord Kelvin, the head of the Royal Society of Science who challenges inventor Fogg to succeed in traversing the Earth in 80 days or else cease and desist forever from engaging in scientific experimentation and Rube Goldberg-like inventing.
Passepartout, who swiped the Buddha, has both cops and Chinese killers, led by a woman, General Fang, in hot pursuit and his service to Fogg is a guise to get back to China.
Arriving in Paris, they are joined by the beautiful semi-Impressionist painter, Monique La Roche played by the rising young French actress, Cecile De France. Winsome and cute, De France clearly had a great time making this flick.
Coogan plays Fogg very well-in fact he's the most interesting actor in the movie. He took his role of a Henry Higgins-type scholarly recluse who slowly falls in love seriously.
The story proceeds predictably. While Chan is the star, his performance is simply a well-choreographed reprise of past made-in-the West films where he can show off his skills. It's "Shanghai Night" all over again. Perhaps this is his last such movie as his announcement earlier this week that he intends to be a "serious" actor from now on pushed Iraq, gasoline prices and the Bush-Kerry campaign off the front pages.
As with the original movie, cameo appearances are a small but welcome treat. The guy who beat Mary Carey for governor of a western state last year is really devilishly funny as an Istanbul prince with a harem and an eye for acquiring Monique. The Wilson brothers play two young and later to be famous siblings whose great stunt at Kitty Hawk supposedly changed the world. And Cathy Bates seems to have had a tough time not laughing as she acted the part of the hardly imperious Widow of Windsor.
The set designs, cinematography and special effects are really excellent. I can see several Oscar nominations forthcoming.
Don't take this movie seriously-it won't dislodge the original from the pantheon of lastingly memorable films. Enjoy it as the summer fun vehicle it's meant to be. Or in any event is.
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