Around The World in 80 Days
The problem with the new Walt Disney/Walden Media version of Jules Verne’s “Around the World in 80 Days” is that it attempts to take its audience across the entire spectrum of Hollywood genres in 80 minutes (give or take a few). Executive Producer Phyllis Alia summed it up thus: This film “is an adventure, comedy, love story, martial arts film, kids’ film, adults’ film, fantasy – and did I say adventure? – all rolled into one.”
That pitch should have caused Disney executives to at least briefly abandon their microscopic examination of their ailing stock portfolios to wonder, as with any business venture, why Alia felt that spraying the audience with the rapid, ill-aimed fire of a machine gun would produce more box office success than the well-targeted sniper bullet of a thematically specific film.
The saving element of the film is Jackie Chan, who plays valet Passepartout to Steve Coogan’s Phileas Fogg. For those unfamiliar with the tale, the story revolves about an outlandish bet between Fogg and the head of the Royal Academy of Science, Lord Kelvin (Jim Broadbent) – Fogg agrees to circumnavigate the globe in the aforementioned fortnights in order to be taken seriously by the Academy. The result is a madcap adventure which spends a callous twenty or so minutes in seven disparate zones of the planet with the smugness of a film that prides itself on broadening our horizons.
It doesn’t; those who read Verne’s novel or saw the 1956 David Niven film will feel disappointment in the echoes of these performances. Chan acquits himself well, providing an added punch (pun intended) to the adventure with his signature comic-action style and quick martial arts sequences. But Coogan, who hails primarily from British television, is remarkably bland as Fogg, and Cécile de France’s portrayal of thrill-seeking French artist Monique is so unbalanced that her character seems nearly bipolar.
What is great about the film is “The Wedding Singer” director Frank Coraci’s fiery pacing and action sequences; what the film lacks in substance and humor it compensates for in pure fun. And the ratio of risk to reward decreases when you pack in the cameos – from Armold Schwarzenegger, Kathy Bates, Rob Schneider, and a few well-placed other stars throughout.
It’s all very silly, ultimately – not the type of film of which the British populace can be proud, since it mocks their sensibilities on a global scale… and certainly not the visionary inter-cultural exploration Verne purported. And so the question is posed and answered within a sentence: was the production of “Around the World in 80 Days” mounted to bring Verne’s tale to a new generation, or to capitalize on modern film technologies as a technique for masking true lack of originality? The answer (naturally, and confusingly) is yes. Where it dismally fails in the first goal, it vastly succeeds in the second.