An adventurer, Passepartout, ends up accompanying time-obsessed English gentleman, Phileas Fogg, on a daring mission to journey around the world. Fogg has wagered with members of his London club that he can traverse the world in 80 days. Along the way, they encounter many interesting 19th Century figures and have many exciting and suspenseful situations in their voyage around the world.Written by
"...so Fogg can marry Belinda Maze..." Whoops, wrong version. Fortunately.
Okay, let's see what we've got here; a new movie version of "Around the World in 80 Days" with Steve Coogan as Phileas Fogg. And one in which the top billing goes to the actor playing Passepartout. This should not work - but it turns out to be Jackie Chan's best American movie to date (admittedly the closest competition is "Rush Hour," but it's still an achievement), and it almost doesn't matter that he's the one playing Passepartout.
The plot's been given some changing by the three credited writers (all of whom, curiously enough, are called David) - in every other version, including the Australian cartoon and the one with Willy Fog, our hero was a very English gentleman off around the world on a gentlemanly bet; this time Fogg is a man of a scientific, visionary bent who's challenged by the head of the Royal Academy of Science (Jim Broadbent) to travel the world in 80 days or never invent again (money is not a temptation here). The comedy is marked up here, both slapstick - like a fight between Chan and the Chinese pursuing him in an art gallery which results in their creating a painting - and more seamy (like Fogg dressing in woman's clothing and indicating he may have a taste for it) - but it's a tribute to Coogan's ability as a comic performer and an actor that he never truly comes across as a buffoon, more like an eccentric yet sincere genius. Such restraint isn't so clear elsewhere, especially with Ewen Bremner's Fix - along with the cameo from Rob Schneider, the most clear sight that this was from the director of "The Waterboy."
Fortunately, like that movie, it's also very funny and attention-holding; like the most famous film version with David Niven, the movie's laden with cameos (most of which don't really add anything to the movie, apart from Arnold Schwarzenegger's hilarious turn as a prince, the Wilson brothers as the Wright brothers, and Kathy Bates as Queen Victoria - I mean, really, did we need Macy Gray to be there?), and Fogg's love interest here is a French artist (lovely Lucy from "Twin Peaks" lookalike Cecile de France) instead of an Indian princess.
The movie does neglect the chance for a tense climax offered by the original book, the special effects by Rhythm & Hues, Jim Henson's Creature Shop et al are uneven and sometimes glaringly bad, and I can only blame the fact that Walt Disney Pictures has the North American rights for the decision to have the Baha Men (gak!) sing "It's A Small World" (double gak!) over the end credits when more of Trevor Jones's score would have been better. But Coogan and Chan make a fun and winning team, it's speedy and colourful, and the movie's got all the fun and action notably lacking in the likes of "Troy" and "Thunderbirds." Essentially, this really is one for the whole family - the kind of thing Hallmark used to be so good at making for television before "The Snow Queen," "Dinotopia" and other sleep-inducers. I liked it.
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