If you're looking for a good family action-comedy this holiday season, you may not need to look any further than 2004's "Around the World in 80 Days," a surprisingly funny and entertaining film that will please everyone young and old. Though the film is obviously nothing like Jules Verne's novel, the comedic timing of Jackie Chan and Steve Coogan makes it more than worthwhile.
Honestly, I was expecting this movie to be really bad. It flopped in theaters due to a poor marketing campaign that made this movie seem like an overly goofy and unexciting Jackie Chan film that once again pitted him with a Caucasian sidekick - only this time, Chan is the sidekick. Chan plays Phileas Fogg's valet Passepartout, who is actually Lau Xing, a Chinese fighter who has traveled to Britian to steal back his village's prized artifact from the clutches of the ruthless Minister of Science (Jim Broadbent) and an evil warlord (Karen Mok). Fogg (Coogan) makes a risky dare that he can make it around the world in 80 days; if he wins, he takes over the Ministry of Science; if he loses, he must never invent again. Passepartout, seeing this as his chance to make it back home, tags along, and they also pick up Fogg's love interest for the movie in the lovely form of Cecil de France.
While the movie seems like "Around the World in 80 Days" meets "Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory" - no surprise since this is a Disney film - the movie is amazingly clever and witty. A lot of the humor is slapstick, but Chan and Coogan pull off the jokes with ease. Coogan plays a very sarcastic and awkward version of Fogg and his reactions to Chan's antics and other tense moments are priceless. While Chan's stunts are once again toned down, he does get a decent amount of fighting to do, though his prop work is nothing we haven't seen before. Probably the funniest fight takes place in a warehouse where the Statue of Liberty is being constructed; Coogan sneezes and knocks a man unconscious - the man's legs stick out of the statue's nose like two dangling boogers. It may not sound funny in this review, but it's pretty frikkin' funny, okay?
Another source of jokes are the cameos, of which there are plenty. While the scene with Rob Schneider sort of falls flat on its face, Arnold Schwarzenegger delivers one of his funniest (and last) performances to date as an Arabian prince who is looking to gain a seventh wife to have one for every day of the week. Luke and Owen Wilson also appear as the Wright brothers and Kathy Bates shows up at the end as Queen Victoria.
The only really damaging portion of the film are the special effects. Director Frank Coraci, hopefully under the command of Walt Disney, interlaced his scenes with some of the most pathetic and out-of-place graphics ever seen on the big screen. In those moments where the characters travel from one country to the next, the camera traverses the globe, only the globe is a cartoonish, PBS-style kid's version with goofy birds and floating sparkling things. It's hard to explain; you have to see it for yourself. Either way, for a $110 million movie, I expected better graphics and I can't imagine that these were actually the intended special effects. They completely take the older audience out of the picture at times.
Don't be deterred by the poor trailers; "Around the World in 80 Days" is a delightful and fun adventure-comedy that the whole family can enjoy. The movie is not without its flaws, but Chan and Coogan are great.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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