To say that Around the World in 80 Days
is so much better than it has any right to be may seem, on surface, a classic case of damning a movie with faint praise. The new film is a remake of the 1956 Academy Award-winner for Best Picture (which also swept four other award categories), a contentious win at the time that seems even more so now as the original’s luster has faded over the years. A populist, everything-but-the-kitchen-sink adventure movie, the original featured a slew of locations and a boatload of international stars in leading and cameo roles. Based on the Jules Verne novel, the story this time has been adapted to highlight the unique attributes of Jackie Chan, who has struggled since leaving Hong Kong to find a leading-man persona in Hollywood that is equal to his fame and dominance abroad. In Around the World in 80 Days
, Chan may have found his rebound vehicle to American and international stardom. Verne’s period story is tweaked to make Chan’s valet Passepartout an equal lead with Coogan’s daffy inventor Phileas Fogg, and the film pauses occasionally for Chan’s martial-arts fights. Yet the emphasis is more on Chan’s physical dexterity and sight gags than street-fighting kung fu licks. Still, the comedy and the action rely on inventive set-pieces, as in the closing act’s brawl that takes place in the grounded head of the soon-to-be-erected Statue of Liberty. The movie is a good showcase for Chan’s talents, although in truth all the actors are well-served by the movie (except perhaps for Arnold Schwarzenegger, in his last movie role before entering public office, who pops up in one of the movie's many cameos as a Turkish prince with a proclivity for hot tubs and long hair, and a penchant for saying things like "I’m always embarrassing myself in front of visiting dignitaries."). The British entertainer Coogan is certain to pick up more international fans, though his mugging here is fairly tame when compared with his other comedy work). Gap-toothed de France also makes a pleasing impression as the French painter who joins their traveling party for no ostensible reason other than the filmmakers’ need to insert a female character into the mix. Cameos by Kathy Bates as Queen Victoria and Luke and Owen Wilson as the Wright Brothers are delightful, while some of the others (like the cameos of John Cleese, Macy Gray, and Rob Schneider) seem altogether gratuitous. Around the World in 80 Days
is a true family film, in the best sense of the term. This summer when you’re looking for a movie to see with granny and the kids and the rest of your motley crew, this film divertissement will be waiting with open arms. Only a devotee of the original film or a hardcore sourpuss could find serious fault with this world romp.