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Alex Stroup, editor

Around the World in 80 Days

New Jackie Chan movie feels just as long

Wednesday, June 16, 2004
by Alex Stroup, MousePlanet editor

Let's start with the full disclosure. I love Jackie Chan. If I were a 12-year-old girl (and had better HTML skills), my feelings are such that the last sentence would have been written with a heart and four exclamation points.

It is a totally irrational thing. It was August of 1992 and I was wandering my college dorm late on a Friday night. Somehow, I stumbled into a movie night being held by a Chinese-student group. For other Chinese students. That night I watched Drunken Master 2 (which was eventually released in the United States as Legend of the Drunken Master) with no subtitles and no idea what was really going on. I was enthralled.

The next weeks found me crawling the Chinese video stores in Seattle's International District renting anything that had his picture on the box. Again, usually without subtitles.

Like the silent films of Buster Keaton, the Jackie Chan films of the late 1980s (made exclusively in Hong Kong) have a kinetic—and comedic—energy that overwhelms the barriers of language and culture. In those heady months of discovery, Chan won from me a lifelong free pass. No matter what he is in, I will watch at least once.

Yes, this means I paid $9 to see The Tuxedo in the theater. Yes, this means I own The Cannonball Run on DVD just because he is in it. I have to watch everything he is in; that doesn't mean I have to think it is very good. Frankly, very few of his American movies are of any real value (Rush Hour and Shanghai Noon are about as good as they get) and his Asian-made films aren't much better. Sadly, age eventually gathers all the great action stars, and that is true of Chan as well.


©Buena Vista Pictures Distribution.

So needless to say, I was intrigued when I learned that Chan had been cast in the Passepartout role in a remake of Around the World in 80 Days. It was certainly an interesting choice for both sides of the deal. From the film makers, it implied a completely new take on the story. From Jackie Chan it looked like he might be trying to move beyond martial arts movies (Chan has done straight drama back in his Hong Kong days, but it came off about as well as his singing on some soundtracks).

Cinematically, Around the World has an interesting pedigree. It has only been filmed once before, in 1956, and somewhat unexpectedly won that year's Oscar for Best Picture. It is thought by many that this may be the least deserving movie to ever win that award, and some joke that it was probably because every member of the Academy had a cameo appearance in the movie.

Let's just say that there is no risk of the Academy repeating its mistake this year. This new version is still chock full of cameos, but they have a decidedly B-list feeling to them. The biggest, though, is Arnold Schwarzenegger. His role is so embarrassing that I almost felt bad that his movie career has likely ended with a performance worse than Red Heat.

The backbone of the story is that eccentric Victorian inventor Phileas Fogg (Steve Coogan) finds himself biting off more than he may be able to chew when he makes a bet that he can… well, travel around the world in 80 days. In a strange departure from both the Jules Verne novel (and the first movie), the other side of this bet is the evil Lord Kelvin, head of the Royal Society and the spokesman for all British Science. The movie's invocation of the name Lord Kelvin is strange on its face for there is no resemblance to the real Lord Kelvin, a Scottish scientist of that same era. Regardless, under his leadership, science has become moribund, believing that everything of interest has already been discovered. It is in arguing about such things that Fogg finds himself making a wager on which he risks his very ability to pursue science (if he loses, he dismantles his lab).

Layered onto this is a completely new story involving Passepartout, who we first meet as he robs the Bank of England. Through a series of standard movie misadventures he ends up pretending to be a French valet and ends up in the employ of Fogg. The movie almost pulls this off; almost. Needless to say, accompanying his boss on a trip around the world would be just the thing for getting back to his home in China, with whatever it is he stole.

As all road movies are, it is the nature of a movie like this to be episodic. Fogg and Passeportout (and eventually Cecile De France's Monique) will make stops in Paris, Turkey, India, China, San Francisco, the Desert Southwest, and New York City on their way around the world. And in each, some adventure will happen. Some jokes will be made. Some kung fu fighting will happen.

Yes, kung fu. This is a Jackie Chan movie after all, and is there any reason the Chinese legend of Wong Fei-hung shouldn't be melded into a Victorian-era Jules Verne novel? The screenwriters certainly didn't see any reason not to. Fortunately, a couple of the fight scenes are decently staged, but this results in a movie that is even more episodic and fractured than it needed to be. Each stop not only requires advancing the “around the world against the meddling of Lord Kelvin” plot, but also advance the “Jackie Chan returns lost treasure to China” plot.

Add to all of this the need to cram in approximately 3,200 cameos and a love interest between Fogg and Monique, and what's delivered is a movie with no idea what it wants to be. Jackie Chan is Jackie Chan. If you like that, then you'll enjoy parts of this. Age really is catching up with him, though, and this means that even in well-choreographed fights the camera cuts are more frequent, the stunts less extreme, and the body doubles more used.

He does get a few set pieces in, however, that improve on anything he has done in his last few movies (including a return to an old bit where he impressively uses a simple bench as a very dangerous weapon).

Steve Coogan's Phileas Fogg is simply annoying. He starts out annoying and slowly gets worse over the first 90 minutes. The final act gives him some character and he is redeemed somewhat, but the only reason to not leave the theater loathing him is that you'll be too focused on Broadbent's Lord Kelvin.


©Buena Vista Pictures Distribution.

Where Coogan looks like that the film wasn't working and simply checked out, Jim Broadbent goes in the other direction. Somehow he ends up chewing more scenery than Zidler, his character in Moulin Rouge. Visually, you can easily see the strain of director Frank Coraci trying to do something original with the look of the film. All he succeeds at, however, is re-creating—with better lighting—the same sci-fi Victorianism that has backdropped recent dreck like Van Helsing and The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. About the only interesting part of the film are the cleverly animated (though out of place) transitions between the various locations. The artists behind those can be proud of their good contributions to a bad movie.

It is a bad movie. As of this writing it has been almost a week since the screening, and images still flashback causing a cringe. Some will enjoy the film's easygoing nature and not care about the simplicity as long as the fights are good and the humor juvenile. There's nothing wrong with that. I've been doing it with Jackie Chan movies for most of a decade. Doesn't mean you have to think they're good though.

Don't worry. If The Medallion didn't end my love affair with Jackie Chan, this certainly won't (though Rush Hour 3 might).


Thoughts, questions, or comments? Contact Alex here.


MOVIE DETAILS

Around the World in 80 Days is a Walt Disney Pictures and Walden Media release

Wide theatrical release: Wednesday, June 16, 2004

Directed by Frank Coraci.

Screenplay by David Titcher, David Benullo, and David Goldstein.

Starring: Jackie Chan, Steve Coogan, Cecile de France, and Jim Broadbent.

Rated PG-13 for action violence, some crude humor and mild language.

Running time: Approximately 100 minutes.

Alex's Rating: 3 out of 10

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Alex Stroup is a degreed librarian with an undergraduate degree in history. An avid reader, movie buff, and devoted “information junkie,” Alex currently lives and works in the Northern California Bay Area. Alex is also the CEO of MousePlanet.

Click here to contact Alex.

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