Walt Disney likes to remake movies. They redid The Parent Trap, Freaky Friday, and they are currently producing an update of The Love Bug. This time they strayed away from Disney properties and, for some unknown reason, decided to finance the remake of Around the World in 80 Days. The 1956 version is a classic (you can read my review of that film here,) could an updated version be just as good? In short: no, it doesn't even come close. Director Frank Coraci and the three (!) writers of the screenplay decided to turn Jules Verne's adventure travelogue into a slapstick comedy filled with martial arts fights. It is as bad as it sounds.
Deviating from Verne's book in the first scene, the film opens with Lau Xing (Jackie Chan) robbing the Bank of England in broad daylight. Running from the Bobbies and escaping by climbing up a tree, Lau crashed into inventor Phileas Fogg's (Steve Coogan) backyard just as his valet quits. It seems that Fogg uses his valets as human guinea pigs to test out his inventions, often with disastrous results. In order to avoid the police, Lau introduces himself as Fogg's replacement valet, the Frenchman Passepartout.
It seems that Lau has traveled half way around the world and reclaimed the jade Buddha, a sacred object that was stolen from his village. Now he has to return it as quickly as possible. (This isn't to be confused with Shanghai Knights where he has to travel half way around the world to recover the royal seal, or Shanghai Noon where he has to rescue a princess. And of course this is totally different from Rush Hour where he travels across the world to recover stolen artifacts AND a kidnaped girl.) When he accompanies his new employer to the Royal Academy of Science, Lau helps goad Lord Kelvin into wagering Phileas that he can't prove his claim that it is possible to circumnavigate the globe in 80 days. Quite flustered at the offer, Fogg initially turns it down, but Kelvin teases ridicules him so much that he eventually accepts.
The pair set off the next day in an odd propellor driven car of Foggs invention. They then take a boat to France where they meet up with an artist, Monique La Rouche (the attractive Cécile De France) who decides to tag along with them because she'd like to see the world. However Lord Kelvin isn't playing fair. He sends an incompetent cop, Inspector Fix (Ewen Bremner) after the group as well as a clan of Chinese assassins, the Black Scorpions.
The trio travel from location to location, meeting colorful people and trying to avoid the Black Scorpions as well as Fix. Somehow Lau manages to have Fogg detour to a remote village in Northern China (how long could it take on an ox drawn cart? Not more than a week surely) where he attempts to return the statue, but the Black Scorpions have anticipated his move.
This movie deviates from the book so much that it's barely related. Yes, there still is the wager and trip around the world, but the characters bear no resemblance to the people who inhabit Verne's book or the earlier movie. David Niven was an excellent Fogg. His Fogg was a British gentleman, with his neat appearance, maniacal adherence to punctuality and unflappable personality. Coogan is the exact opposite. He is a scatterbrained inventor who lacks self esteem and is constantly on the verge of panic. The addition of Fogg's harebrained inventions don't add any humor to the movie, they just make it seem unrealistic and goofy.
There were many logical gaps in the movie too, which made it hard to suspend your disbelief. Near the end of the movie, Fogg loses all of his money. He's reduced to begging for food, but when Monique and Lau show up, everything is miraculously better, though they have no money themselves.
The film strayed quite a bit from reality too. Lord Kelvin, admittedly
an egoistical scientist who came down on the wrong side of several scientific
theories, was portrayed as a buffoon rather than the learned man that he
was. I could go on to list all of the historical inaccuracies that
I spotted (the Wright Brothers didn't go around the American desert with
a traveling bicycle repair shop) but that would be like shooting fish in
a barrel. Too easy and not very fun.
I haven't encountered Steve Coogan before, and I wasn't impressed with his performance either. He was hamming up to role too much, and just wasn't funny. He had a couple of good lines, but most of them fell flat.
The one person who did give a good performance was Cécile De France. She was the only one who was restrained in her acting and seemed genuine, but she wasn't enough to save the film.
I think a lot of the blame goes to the director. The direction was uninspired at best. The scenes of the Great Wall of China (CGI) and other scenic vistas were flat and dull, especially when compared to the original version. The way the film was shot really drained a lot of comedy from the film too. In the beginning when Jackie is running from the police he runs into a home, out the window and through a horse drawn cab. A fairly standard slapstick scene like this should have the room in stitches, but director Frank Coraci did it all as a long shot and as a result it isn't funny. Then there is the scene were Jackie gets away by climbing up a tree. We don't see him scamper up the tree, he does it off camera! Since they went to so much trouble altering the story to give Jackie Chan more scenes, you would think that they'd let him shine when it's comes up naturally.
The best part about this movie is the guest shots. Like the first movie, there were a lot of cameos by famous stars, and they were fun to spot. I especially liked Richard Branson's appearance. Offsetting that though, is the fact that there weren't any outtakes during the credits, something that has been a staple of Jackie Chan movies for years. It's unfortunate that they decided to eliminate that fun aspect of his movies.
The 5.1 English soundtrack was pretty good. There was good use made of the soundstage, with the noises of the city and various exotic locations coming from the rear to give a more realistic feel. The dialog was easy to discern, and there wasn't any distortion or hiss. There were subtitles in French and Spanish, but oddly enough I wasn't able to switch them on with my remote while the movie was playing.
The 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen presentation looks very good. The colors are bright and they really bring the vivid scenes to life. The black levels were good and the detail was excellent with a nice sharp picture. The only flaw is that there is some edge enhancement to the image but they didn't get too heavy with it. Digital defects were at a minimum. A good looking movie.
This disc offers a good amount of extras:
Alternate beginning: They play this up a bit on the cover, but it really isn't that special. As the begining credits start there is a brief scene where a CGI chicken walks around on the wing of a plane. Not much too it, and it only adds 35 seconds to the film.
Discovering Around the World in 80 Days (19 minutes): A behind the scenes piece that has a lot of fluff in it. The actors all talk about how exciting and fun the movie is, and they describe their roles without giving too much away. Not really exciting.
Around the World of Jackie Chan (6 ½ minutes): A short featurette about Jackie's role in the movie as both a fight choreographer and actor.
Deleted Scenes: Nine scenes that didn't make it into the final cut, and most of them deserved to be cut. There was one good line that should have made it into the film though. When Monique gives Fogg a pep talk he reply with: "It's that never surrender French spirit of yours that I missed so much."
Audio Commentary with Director Frank Coraci and actor Steve Coogan: This commentary is only available on the alternate beginning version. They talk about the genesis of the project, and the filming of the movie. There were some fun anecdotes about the shooting and creation of the film.
Everybody All Over the World (Join the Celebration): a music video.
This really wasn't a very good movie. Even if you ignore the fact that they drastically changed the plot and characters from the book, it still is a poor effort. The acting was sub par and the direction was horrible. My young children didn't mind watching it, but they weren't enthusiastic about it either. If you are looking for something to put in for the kids, you might consider this as a rental, but otherwise you should just skip it.