The $110 million-dollar Anglo-German-Irish co-production of Around the World in 80 Days is a far cry from Jules Verne. Rather, this independent film (picked up by Disney for distribution) essentially remakes the 1956 Best Picture winner in 2004 terms. The result is a strange hybrid of Verne's story, goofy Disney fare like The Absent-Minded Professor, and cheerily anachronistic Jackie Chan buddy comedies like Shanghai Knights.
Chan plays Passepartout (played in 1956 by Cantinflas), the trusty valet to science-minded London gent Phileas Fogg (Steve Coogan of 24 Hour Party People, in the footsteps of David Niven). In this Chan-slation of the story, "Passepartout" is actually Lau Xing, a Chinese villager who has just stolen the priceless Jade Buddha from the Bank of England. On the run from the police, Lau Xing takes the valet job to lie low. The better to disappear, he helps to needle Fogg into embarking on the titular scheme, a wager with evil Royal Academy of Science head Lord Kelvin (Oscar-winner Jim Broadbent).
The ensuing circumnavigation of the globe takes the twosome through Paris—where they add a traveling companion in the fetching aspiring artist Monique La Roche (Cécile de France)—Turkey, India, China, and the United States (specifically, San Francisco and New York). Tailed by Ewan Bremner's over-the-top Inspector Fix and a gross of Chinese warriors, the threesome handle a Turkish tyrant played lustily by Arnold Schwarzenegger, encounter famous works of art (Starry, Starry Night, The Thinker, a not-to-scale Statue of Liberty), and employ such modes of travel as train, steamer ship, and hot air balloon (pulled, appropriately, out of the hands of Virgin mogul Richard Branson, the first person to complete a solo circumnavigation of the globe by balloon).
Director Frank Coraci (The Wedding Singer, The Waterboy) further apes Michael Anderson's film by inserting multiple cameo roles—most are decidely underwhelming (Rob Schneider! Macy Gray!), but a few pack the right punch, like appearances by some of Chan's best screen buddies. This is, after all, a Jackie Chan movie, and properly, he receives a prominent credit for his inventive fight choreography. In his eye-widening, toothy, dry-witted performance, Coogan has his moments, but he's obviously miscast as a stiff-upper-lip Londoner and consistently overshadowed by the lovably frenetic Chan. Chan gets plenty of stunts and fight scenes; his best business involves working over a Chinese baddie with a small wooden bench. Chan fanatics will note with displeasure a reliance on wire fu in some of the fights.
Though the thickly green mountainside overlooking Lau Xing's home village provides an imposing backdrop (one actually found in Thailand), this Around the World in 80 Days largely substitutes CGI for genuine travelogue spectacle, and the script could do with more subtlety and wit. S.J. Perelman, who co-wrote the '56 film, is sorely missed, though I enjoyed Broadbent's promise to lackey Lord Salisbury "I shall name a beef-related entrée after you!". Coraci's movie is something between a monstrosity and a good-enough family film, with the added value of living legend Jackie Chan. Finally, it's a kid's movie, and a pretty good one, notwithstanding the Three Stooges masochism and oddly intense drinking humor: call it garish but fun.