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Toon Talk: Around the World in 80 Days
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Disney Film & Video Reviews by Kirby C. Holt
Around the World in 80 Days
Jules Verne's classic adventure tale Around the World in 80 Days has been adapted for the screen on many different occasions, most famously with Michael Todd's lavish 1953 production, a star-studded affair that was not only a box office sensation, it also nabbed the Best Picture Oscar that year away from such other cinematic spectacles as George Stevens' Giant and Cecil B. DeMille's The Ten Commandments (those were the times when, to contradict a certain Ms. Desmond, the pictures were Big with a capital "Bâ€?).
But even that celebrated effort (awful quaint in today's terms ... basically an extended Cinemascope travelogue) hasn't stopped countless new attempts at the source material, including this latest, brought to the screen by Walden Media via Walt Disney Pictures. Alas, whereas 1953's version had to its credit the charms of David Niven, in 2004 we get the chop suey of Jackie Chan.
Twisting the plot around to transform Passepartout, the resourceful valet of eccentric inventor Phileas Fogg, from French to Chinese is only the first of the aberrations enforced to accommodate Chan's casting. As audiences would expect from a Jackie Chan movie, there are plenty of extravagant stunt sequences shoehorned into the story, regardless of their appropriateness ... and nowadays, let's face it, Chan is getting a little long in the tooth for such shenanigans. But, based on his rather low rent surroundings, Chan's involvement was obviously necessary to get this film off the ground (he is also credited as executive producer, along with, of course, stunt choreography).
For cast as Fogg is Steve Coogan, who may be known in England, but is a virtual unknown in the States (Disney fans will remember him only by his voice, heard as the evil snake in the recent Ella Enchanted); sometimes casting a fresh face makes sense in the end result, but Coogan brings nothing interesting to the role; in his scenes with Jim Broadbent (whose blustering in this film, as in Moulin Rouge and Topsy-Turvy, is growing a bit tiresome) as Fogg's scientific rival and the one who's wager sets the titular trek in motion, Coogan is bulldozed off the screen by the veteran character actor. A tacked-on love interest for Fogg in the lithe form of Cecile De France (who, despite her name, is from Belgium, which may account for her questionable French accent) falls flat, with no hint of chemistry between the two, let alone romantic motivation.
The film (directed sans inspiration by Frank Coraci, whose previous contributions to the art of cinema include the Adam Sandler vehicles The Wedding Singer and The Waterboy) also has a few choice celebrity cameos thrown in as a sort of homage to the Todd version (which virtually invented the use of famous faces in small walk-on roles) ... except where that film had Frank Sinatra, Peter Lorre and Buster Keaton, this one settles for Rob Schneider and the Wilson brothers Luke and Owen (Chan's co-star in Shanghais Noon and Knights). Such diversions were used in the 50s 80 Days to distract viewers from the threadbare storyline, but now they pull you out of the action, leaving you to ponder how Arnold Schwarzenegger (in a bad Cleopatra wig as an amorous Turkish prince) and Kathy Bates (as none other then the Queen of England) ended up in such a mess.