U.S. Release Date: June 16, 2004
Distributor: Buena Vista
Director: Frank Coraci
Producer: Bill Badalato, Alex Schwartz (executive)
Composer: Trevor Jones
Cast: Will Forte, Steve Coogan, Jackie Chan, Cecile de France, Jim Broadbent, Kathy Bates, Arnold Schwarzenegger (Cameo), Owen Wilson (Cameo), Luke Wilson (Cameo), Rob Schneider (Cameo)
Running Time: 2 hours
MPAA Rating: PG (for action violence, some crude humor and mild language)

Slow Boat to China
by Scott Holleran

Disney and Walden Media hold to writer Jules Verne's original plot in Hollywood's latest remake, Around the World in 80 Days, yet Jackie Chan, whose secondary role subsumes the picture, keeps this light fare from taking flight.

Chan's martial arts don't match the plot's promise: a sense of wondrous, global adventure. The role of inventor Phileas Fogg's loyal valet, memorably played in the 1956 movie by Mexican actor Cantinflas, has been changed to suit Chan's presumed appeal. Fogg, portrayed by David Niven as an intelligent creator, is reimagined as a bumbling inventor (through no fault of actor Steve Coogan). Keeping the plot while distorting its characterizations slows and dulls the movie.

80 Days is surprisingly good in bursts, with several funny lines, fine performances and, with each exotic locale, visually inviting transitions. Cecile de France plays an artist and Fogg's romantic interest with a blend of lightness and cheer. In certain scenes, 80 Days wants to dramatize the creator actualizing his visions—Jules Verne at his best—but illusions of something grander than a Jackie Chan vehicle are killed by Chan's antics and a subplot about restoring a religious symbol to Chan's Oriental village. Nothing against Chan, who's entertaining in his own right, but his sidekick dominates a movie that needs a right hand man.

The 1956 original presented a lone visionary, accompanied by a mischievous companion and Shirley MacLaine's princess, proving he could master the elements and travel the globe in 80 days. Along the way, Mr. Niven's arrogant inventor Fogg discovered the whole world, with rich cultural contrasts depicted as colorful postcards and each place as a step toward their lofty goal. The remake lacks that sense of purpose. It stops cold everywhere and for far too long.

The itinerary drags because each visit is suited to Chan's—not the story's—strengths. By subjugating brilliant Fogg, Around the World in 80 Days is deflated of its reason. Multiculturalism creeps in, with pretty pictures reduced to preachy lessons. When the travelers are stuck in Asia, the movie sinks to its lowest point. Tribal gangs kick it out in a scene that resembles an Al Qaeda video with hooded men in black as the good guys.

Soon Fogg is in America, having left the others behind, and he is ineffectual on his own—this genius needs others to be his best. The difference between the original's journey to America and the Disney version is striking; the U.S. has gone from a vast, wild frontier of self-reliant men and marauding Indians to San Francisco street nymphs and faceless New Yorkers.

Bright spots do shine. Despite the cartoonish slamming into walls, 80 Days is relatively clean for the family. The always delightful Kathy Bates is a welcome diversion in a small role as Queen Victoria. Jim Broadbent plays the villain with his finest scowl. Coogan, Chan and de France possess charm in the best scenes.

Arnold Schwarzenegger plays a lecherous Turk, and he's as bland as usual. Where the 1956 movie provided cameos by Marlene Dietrich, Frank Sinatra, Noel Coward and Buster Keaton, the Disney version offers Owen and Luke Wilson as the Wright Brothers—presenting the first men to fly as a couple of hapless hucksters—and it underscores what's missing from 80 Days: the excitement of man's most daring adventures.

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