Around the World in 80 Days (December 18/04)
Though I've not read Jules Verne's famed book of the same name, one would imagine that his version of Around the World in 80 Days didn't feature quite so many martial arts fight sequences. The film feels less like an adaptation of an 19th century novel and more like the third installment in Jackie Chan's Shanghai Noon series - except with Steve Coogan in the Owen Wilson role.
Coogan stars as Phileas Fogg, an absent-minded inventor who agrees to travel around the world within 80 days as part of a high-stakes wager. He teams up with a man calling himself Passepartout (Chan), though unbeknownst to him, Passepartout is actually a Chinese thief named Lau Xing. The two set off on the epic journey that will literally take them all over the world, with Passepartout getting into a fight virtually at every stop.
Around the World in 80 Days has been directed by Frank Coraci, who does an effective job of imbuing the film with a distinctive old-school sort of vibe. The movie feels like one of those comical epics of yesteryear (ie It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World), complete with superfluous cameos. In terms of quality, though, there's no denying that the film comes up short. This is primarily due to a needless emphasis on fight sequences, presumably due to the inclusion of Jackie Chan into the film's cast. As a result, Fogg essentially winds up playing second-banana to Passepartout - a disastrous choice that simply does not work. Because the movie's called Around the World in 80 Days, it seems reasonable to expect more stuff involving Fogg's almost insurmountable quest rather than an acrobatic battle every ten minutes.
It's a shame, since Coogan is actually quite effective in the central role. He imbues Fogg with an expected streak of sarcasm while ensuring that the character remains likable, something that one might not have expected from the actor (his turn as an exceedingly obnoxious performer in Coffee and Cigarettes cannot easily be forgotten). And while he and Chan undoubtedly make a good team, it's impossible to overlook the similarities to Chan and Owen Wilson's rapport in Shanghai Noon and Shanghai Knights (or to any of Chan's American buddy films, really).
Around the World in 80 Days might be worth a look for die-hard Chan fans, particularly since there's not much else here worth embracing.