Around the World in 80 Days Review
By Shawn McKenzie 06/18/2004
I was trying to figure out the other day what I’d prefer: a movie that was charming yet dull, or one that was just plain stupid. After having recently seen the remake of Around the World in 80 Days, I’m going for the dull one for now.
Phileas Fogg (Steve Coogan) is an eccentric English inventor/ scientist around the turn of the century who invents unbelievable things that the backwards Royal Academy of Science dismisses. His latest attempt at inventing something is a flying device. He tests all of his inventions on his valets, and his latest one (Daniel Hinchcliffe) has just quit. Enter Lau Xing (Jackie Chan.) He has just robbed the Bank of England of a statue called the Jade Buddha, which had been stolen from his village of Lanzhou in China. In his effort to avoid the authorities, Xing pretends to be a French (on his mother’s side) valet named Passepartout. Fogg gets in an argument with the Royal Academy’s Minister of Science, Lord Kelvin (Jim Broadbent), over how long the Bank of England robber could make it around the world. Fogg thinks that it would only take 80 days, which Lord Kelvin rejects as ludicrous, but since he hates the inventor, he sees an opportunity to get rid of him. He challenges Fogg to a bet that he himself can’t circumnavigate the globe in just 80 days. If Fogg wins, Kelvin will step down from his position and give it to Fogg, but if he loses, he must agree to never return to the Academy or invent anything ever again. Fogg is hesitant at first, but Xing convinces him to do it, since it would be a great way to get back home to his village. They start on their mission, with Paris being their first destination. In an effort to avoid the Black Scorpions, a group of Asian assassins led by the long-fingernailed General Fang (Karen Joy Morris) who are conspiring with Kelvin, Xing leads Fogg into an exhibition for Impressionist painters by telling him that it is a science exhibition. Fogg is not impressed by the paintings of Vincent Van Gogh (Perry Blake) at the exhibition, but he does like one painting of a flying man, which was painted by the coat check girl, Monique La Roche (Cécile De France.) She follows them as they avoid the local constable Inspector Fix (Ewen Bremner), hijack a hot air balloon from the Balloon Man (Richard Branson), and fly to their next destination. Fogg doesn’t want Monique to follow them around, but Xing convinces him to have her join them after she figures out his ulterior motive. Along the way, they meet Prince Hapi (Arnold Schwarzenegger), who wants to make Monique his seventh wife; Xing’s father, Wong Fei Hung (Sammo Hung), the leader of the Ten Tigers who battle the Black Scorpions; and the Wright Brothers (Luke and Owen Wilson), who give Fogg some ideas about his flying machine. With Kelvin trying so hard to stop them, there is a chance that Fogg will have to give up his dream of being the next Thomas Edison.
I’ve heard that most critics and movie scholars consider the original 1956 movie as the most boring movie ever to win Best Picture at the Academy Awards. Well, if you consider that it was up against the movies Friendly Persuasion, Giant, The King and I, and The Ten Commandments, I’d agree to a point. There was something comfortable about it though. It’s like a perfect movie to watch on a Sunday afternoon while snowed in.
This version is just ridiculous, and not in a good way. I will admit that it is faster paced than the original, thanks mainly to the action of Chan, but it has such unfunny dialogue. If I roll my eyes more than once or twice during a movie, there is something wrong.
One thing that was a strength of both movies was some inspired cameo appearances. The first movie coined the term, with some of the more notable cameos being Red Buttons, Buster Keaton, Cesar Romero, Charles Boyer, Edward R. Murrow, George Raft, John Carradine, Marlene Dietrich, Noel Coward, Peter Lorre, Red Skelton, Reginald Denny, and John Gielgud. In addition to the Wilson Brothers, Branson, Schwarzenegger, and Hung, this one had Macy Gray as a sleeping French woman, Rob Schneider as a hobo in San Francisco, Mark Addy as a steamer boat captain, John Cleese and “Saturday Night Live’s” Will Forte as a couple of English Bobbys, and Kathy Bates as Queen Victoria. If only they had paid as much attention to the writing as they had in casting the cameos, it might have been a better movie.
I didn’t like how they made Fogg a bumbler. One of the cool things about the original Fogg, played by David Niven, was that he always had self-confidence, even to the point of self-delusion. Coogan’s Fogg was too dependent on Xing to get him out of a jam, and too afraid to express his feelings for Monique.
Chan was okay, but since the filmmakers were purposely going after a family-friendly PG rating, his action was toned down. It wasn’t quite as impressive as it could have been. It was kind of cool to see Chan and Hung together though.
I honestly don’t know if my fellow local Denver area critics share my fondness for the original Around the World in 80 Days, but based on their response at the screening for the new version, I’m pretty sure they shared my dislike for the update. Believe it or not, I really don’t mind remakes, unlike others, and I even think that they could improve upon the original. Director Frank Coraci has made better movies, like The Wedding Singer and The Waterboy (so maybe he just needed Adam Sandler to star in it.) If they had made Fogg more self-confident and had better dialogue, this could have been a fun film.
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