More noise than signal

Around the World in 80 Days

This review has been ‘repurposed’ from my other site,

I suppose I should start with a confession – I’ve never met a Jackie Chan film I haven’t liked. This honour even extends to the largely uninspired recent outings such as The Tuxedo, so the question in this case then shifts from ‘did I like this film’ to ‘how much did Steve Coogan stop me liking this film’. Thankfully the answer to this is ‘not in the slightest’.

Baring little more than a passing relation to Jules Verne’s novel, Coogan steps into the globe bestriding britches of Phileas Fogg, scientific visionary and reserved flake. After an off-the-cuff calculation estimates that a man may circumnavigate the globe in a mere eighty days his long term adversary Lord Kelvin (Jim Broadbent) seizes on an opportunity to discredit him – should he achieve the impossible, Fogg will have the coveted chair of the Royal Institute. Fail, and Fogg may never invent again.

Because this involves little scope for attacking people in inventive ways with household objects, a hastily tacked on subplot sees Passepartout (Jackie Chan) join Fogg as his valet, escaping from the Metropolitan police after swiping a valuable Jade McGuffin from the Bank of England. This turns out to hold some mystical significance for his little village back East, and Passepartout sees Fogg as a quick way home. As this isn’t quite contrived enough, the little green statuette was about to be traded between General Fang (Karen Mok), a village crushing evil warlordy type lass and Kelvin, for reasons too far fetched to remember or care about. This unnecessarily overdandified exposition boils down to Fang’s chop-sockey goons trying to stop Passepartout leading to a few set-piece kung fu displays around the world.

There’s a place for complicated setups but a family oriented simple chase movie isn’t it. Anyway, frontloading this nonsense means that as soon as Fogg gets on his skates in the general direction of France any pretence at serious drama can quitely shuffle off to the side, leaving the inestimable Chan-meister to provide some of his best cinematic kung-fu choreography in some years, arguably the best of his Western-funded flicks (though Shanghai Noon would run it close) that in many places harkens back to some of Chan’s very earliest work. I’m thinking of a particularly impressive stool based fight sequence (no, really. And not that kind of stool, either) that seems rather Young Master-ish.

Sensibly, with Chan providing his usual charismatic visual comedy action the bulk of the vocalisation is doled out in Steve Coogan’s direction, and frankly he and the script writers have done far better than I’d dared hope. The ‘quirky, reserved Englishman in mild peril and thematic content’ concept seemed to be angling rather close to the Avengers fiasco, and I’m sure you don’t need us to tell you how that ended up. For me Coogan’s one of those comedians that slips between utterly incredible (the Alan Partridge stuff) and utterly unbearable (anyone remember the Tony Ferrino character? No? Thought not), but every gag is delivered crisply and sharply, never milking a performance and generally doing himself a great credit, staying very much the focus of the story even despite the frequent chop-sockey interludes and the near insane number of cameos.

Ahh yes, cameos. The trailers may give away Arnie Schwarzenegger’s appearance as a Turkish prince with perhaps the scariest hairstyle ever seen, but there’s still a whole host of other stars for our protagonists to stumble over as they traipse from pillar to post. Rob Schneider, Sammo Hung, Ewen Bremner and the brothers Wilson (Luke and Owen) pop up in various minute long capacities, providing an opportunity to dole out a one liner or two and run away. This might prove a shade irritating if the movie just wasn’t so high in good natured fun and low in calories.

At heart, I’m a simple soul to please inside a multiplex. Stay relatively entertaining over the course of your ninety minutes of fame and I’ll wander out with a grin on my face, and after a shaky start Around the World in 80 Days delivers just that. It’s a throwaway nonsense of a film, undeniably. It’s not even close to art, certainly. It’s not the most sharply observed or stunningly original work, granted. Still, I’d contend that if you can’t find some portion of this film enjoyable you’ve no place being in a cinema.

For a fan of Chan’s output, this is unquestionably going to provide a worthy exchange for your fiver and it’s also going to be a worthwhile proposition for parents wanting something to sit the kids in front of for a while. For such a big-budget release it’s just a little too quirky for it’s own good, as such it’s never going to be quite the mass market success the backers were hoping for. If you’re a little quirky yourself this is probably a good thing, but the more straight laced may find this a little too unusual to really demand attention. A pity, as I’m sure if anyone give this a half chance they’d end up at least liking it for the duration, even if not declaring it the bestest thing ever. That’s far too great a claim, but there’s very little wrong with Around the World in 80 Days that an open mind won’t fix.