Around the World in 80 Days

Since moving to America, Jackie Chan has suffered from being type cast in buddy/buddy roles. This time, instead of Chris Tucker, Owen Wilson, Lee Evans or Claire Forlani, we have Steve Coogan, Mr Alan Partridge himself. Di$ney Studios have decided that it is time to remake the classic 1956 Michael Todd’s Around The World In 80 Days which in turn was based on the novel by Jules Verne. Like the 1956 version, this updated outing also has wall to wall cameos, but strangely moves the focus off the central character and concentrates more on the plight of his valet.

Set in 1872 London, a Chinese warrior Lau Xing (Jackie Chan) steals a jade idol from the custody of the Bank of England and therefore becomes the most wanted man in England. It transpires that the idol was originally stolen from Xing’s village where it was an artefact that ensured prosperity and protection.

Whilst on the run from the rozzers, Xing stumbles into the gardens of eccentric and slightly insane inventor Phileas Fogg (Steve Coogan). Fogg manages to convince Xing to become his valet and Xing manages to convince Fogg that his real name is Passepartout.

With his crazy inventions, Fogg is often mocked and tormented by more conventional scientists, namely Lord Kelvin (Jim Broadbent), who scoffs at Fogg’s claims that man will soon harness flight. Fogg, in a moment of outrage, wagers that he can circumnavigate the world within eighty days. Lord Kelvin accepts the wager on the condition that if Fogg succeeds then he will resign from the scientific community and Fogg will be appointed the new head of the Science Society. However, if Fogg fails then not only will he be ostracised from the Science Society, but he will never invent again.

Fogg soon sets off on his epic journey, with his new trusty valet in tow. Passepartout, however, has an ulterior motive as he sees Fogg’s expedition as a route for him and the stolen idol to return to his village.

On there route they meet an aspiring artist Monique (Cecile De France) who accompanies the two heroes on their crusade with the intention that fascinating foreign lands might artistically inspire her.

Also hot on Fogg and Passepartout’s heels are a bumbling police investigator called Fixx (Ewen Bremmer) and the nefarious forces of General Fang (Karen Mok) who have no issue about not using lethal force to recover the jade idol (which they stole in the first place).

Around The World In 80 Days is as light-hearted as it gets. This is a family film through and through, which might come as a disappointment to more ardent Jackie Chan fans expecting more Hong Kong type shenanigans. He’s very restrained and even the action scenes, which at times are frenzied, don’t have an air of violence about them.

Steve Coogan is the straight man, allowing Chan to steal scene after scene. This is obviously a bid for him to move into more American projects, but will the British public ever forget him as Alan Partridge still remains unanswered (Around Norfolk in 80 minutes anyone?). Cecile De France initially comes across as being an important part of the story, but by the end it transpires that she’s nothing more than a sexy female lead.

Inevitable comparisons to the classic 1956 version’s come with both film being packed with more high profile cameos since Austin Powers: Goldmember. In this case we have small and larger parts handed out to Richard Branson, Sammo Hung, Owen and Luke Wilson, Macy Gray, Rob Scheider, John Cleese, Kathy Bates and Arnold Schwarzenegger (in his last appearance before taking office as Govn’r). Many of these cameos do come across as gimmicky and a shameless link to the original version - but some do hit the spot – Schwarzenegger being the funniest as a lecherous Turkish prince, with the Wilson brothers close behind.

The plot must have been done constructed in an afternoon it is that light. Director Frank Coraci has the advantage of a loose structure as to avoid any real continuity. For example, if one location runs dry of gags, then simply move onto the next. He’s not going to get any Oscars (the 1956 won five Oscars including Best Picture, beating The King an I) for this version and even though he doesn’t have the superb David Niven, he has managed to create a film that entertains long enough to keep the entire family chuckling.

Score 6/10