Circling the globe, Jackie Chan styleThe new remake of “Around the World in 80 Days” is worth watching ― as a video rental. It stars Jackie Chan, an endearing chap with acrobatic skills that far outpace his acting skills, and a series of sometimes ridiculously perfect cameos.
Owen and Luke Wilson appear as the Wright brothers, Owen as the talkative public relations type riding the coattails of Luke the quiet inventor. Rob Schneider shows up as a bum, crazy (and apparently smelly) as usual. Arnold Schwarzenegger plays a Turkish prince, though his sculpture, a birthday gift from Auguste Rodin that looks just like the Thinker, generates more laughs.
There’s an Asian dominatrix type with wicked nails and black clothing, who, thankfully, is not Lucy Liu. Karen Mok, a Hong Kong-based actress who speaks four languages, plays General Fang, a Chinese warlord. While her role is more than a simple cameo, the reason she’s being singled out in this review is that the world lacks hot Asian actresses with international clout. If “Around the World in 80 Days” launches Mok’s career, and hopefully not as an evil Asian (she does comedy, too), it will have been worth watching on the big screen.
Jackie Chan stars as Lau Xing, who leaves China for England to bring back a precious jade Buddha that protects his village. The Buddha is being kept at the Bank of England because of underhanded deals between General Fang and Lord Kelvin (Jim Broadbent) of the Royal Society of Science. While trying to escape the Chinese authorities, Lau Xing lands at the feet of Phileas Fogg (Steve Coogan), an eccentric and socially unsavvy inventor. Pretending to be a French valet named Passepartout, he enters Fogg’s service.
A pause here to explain, in case you haven’t read the original Jules Verne novel, that the movie is really just a chance for Chan to show off some madcap stunts. There is no Chinese valet in the book. There is no conspiracy between England and China. (Sadly, there’s no kung fu either.) Phileas Fogg, the hero of the book, never meets the Wright brothers. He’s not even an inventor.
So, inspired by the story of a gentleman from the 19th century traveling around the world, comes this 2004 movie. Lau Xing, in need of a way to return to China, creates an opportunity for Fogg to leave England. Fogg makes a deal with Lord Kelvin that if he can travel around the world in 80 days, he will become the new head of the science society, and lead England to new heights of innovations. If Fogg loses, he promises never to invent again.
So off the two go, chased not just by General Fang and her gang, but underlings of Lord Kelvin. The duo becomes a trio when love interest Monique (Cecile de France) enters the picture. By automobile, horse and buggy, balloon, ship, train and plane, they rush around the world. In each country, they fall into some mischief and must find a way out.
Coogan actually turns in a solid performance, adding some character development not provided by the one-dimensional Chan. With Chan on board, one knows exactly what type of movie to expect: mindless entertainment. Sometimes it’s more entertaining then mindless, and sometimes, like this time, it’s more mindless then entertaining.
by Joe Yonghee