'80 Days': Up, Up -- and a Waste

By Desson Thomson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, June 18, 2004

MAYBE THIS will be a Trivial Pursuit question one day: What movie featured Jackie Chan, Steve Coogan and a certain Californian governor? The answer is "Around the World in 80 Days," an all-star remake of the David Niven film of the 1950s, which is energetic if nothing else. And yes, it is definitely nothing else.

There's no use lamenting, for the ninth or 10th time, Chan's complete blandification into almost embarrassing childishness for Hollywood. As Lau Xing, a Chinese villager caught up in a globe-traveling stunt, you don't even need to guess at his persona. It has become the same, picture in, picture out. Once Asia's most exciting stunt-performer, he's now "delightful," "goofy" and "never far from a smile."

This much can be lamented for the first time. Coogan, one of England's funniest comedians, seems to have immediately sold himself to the lowest bidder. As Phileas Fogg, an inventor who bets the imperious Lord Kelvin (Jim Broadbent), head of the Royal Academy of Science, that he can traverse the globe in 80 days, he's about as funny as wet bread.

Lau has come to London to retrieve a jade Buddha stolen from his home village. He wrests it from the evil Gen. Fang (Karen Mok doing her best to keep the world well supplied in Asian cliches) and to avoid the London bobbies chasing him, runs into Phileas. To cut some dreary exposition short, Phileas mistakenly names him Passepartout and enlists him to accompany him on the world-traveling venture, which includes trains and balloons. This is good for "Passepartout," who could use a ride home on that balloon.

Joining up with wacky Frenchwoman Monique (Cecile De France, whose only purpose in the movie is to attract French audiences when this movie is dumped on the European recycle market) and chased by Fang's Black Scorpions, they try to make it back to London in time. During the journey, they do, indeed, bump into Arnold Schwarzenegger, who plays Prince Hapi, a royal Turkish womanizer. Of course, this lusty role is just going to play into some lingering rumors about Arnold. So let me be the first to say: Arnold is definitely not Turkish.

The gags are physical but rarely funny. This will ensure delight among the very young but precious few others, I would wager. And Chan continues to strain himself to the point of bursting major blood vessels to be rubbery and obsequious. There's nothing more to say, except list a few cameos. If Chan's in a movie, you can almost be sure that Owen Wilson and Luke Wilson (playing the Wright brothers) ain't far behind. And let us not fail to mention the highly significant role that Rob Schneider enjoys as a San Francisco homeless person who teaches the temporarily destitute Phileas how to make money on the street. And just to round off the list of cameos gone to mush, there's John Cleese playing a London bobby, just for a moment. Now for something completely different, this ain't.

AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS (PG, 125 minutes) -- Contains action violence, some crude humor and mild obscenity. Area theaters.

© 2004 The Washington Post Company