You've just got to love Phileas Fogg. The British inventor's personality is about as dry as powdered milk - and just as bland. But even though he's humorless and nave, he also believes in making the world a better place through science and is willing to put everything on the line for that cause.
Fogg's classic story, penned by novelist Jules Verne in 1873, centers on his acceptance of a challenge from the corrupt bureaucrats at the Royal Academy of Science who claim the inventor cannot go "Around the World in 80 Days."
It was a daunting challenge in Verne's day and quaint fun when David Niven played Fogg in the star-studded 1956 Hollywood movie that won five Academy Awards, including Best Picture.
Surprisingly, perhaps, in an era when a Concorde jet set the Guinness record for circling the earth in under 31 1/2 hours, Verne's 19th-century adventure still proves to be a worthy vehicle for a lighthearted summer action film.
Steve Coogan, the British actor best known for his role in 24 Hour Party People, has a natural ease as Fogg, portraying the inventor as believably brilliant as a scientist but terribly nave outside the laboratory.
Verne's classic tale works even though its story is stretched to fit the unlikely presence of Jackie Chan, who plays Fogg's head-smacking sidekick Passepartout (played by Cantinflas in 1956), and despite the politically incorrect cameo of the governor of California as a bushy-haired Turkish womanizer named Prince Hapi.
Passepartout literally drops into Fogg's life, falling from a tree he's climbed to escape the London bobbies scouring the streets for the thief who stole a jade Buddha from a display at the Bank of England.
Fogg assumes Passepartout must be the new valet sent from the agency, and Passepartout leaps at the chance of avoiding capture. "I'm from a long line of French valets, Chan tells
Fogg with a straight face.
Donning goggles and helmet, Passepartout then climbs
into a steam-powered railcar Fogg is testing in hopes of
breaking the 50-mile-per-hour speed record without disrupting
man s internal organs.
Like a metaphor for their upcoming trek, Fogg sends
Passepartout hurtling around a circular track, gaining speed
until he hits 50 mph and a rail pops loose, sending the valet
fl ying into the street.
When the eccentric inventor presents his research to the Royal Academy of Science, the British stuffed shirts mock Fogg and somehow end up challenging him to use modern scientifi c advancements to circumnavigate the globe in 80 days.
There is, of course, the requisite love interest, as Fogg meets up with Monique La Roche (Cecile de France) in a Paris art gallery where she works as a coat-check girl. Monique manages to persuade Fogg to take her along for the ride ( I need a world journey
to inspire me! she gushes.)
Jim Broadbent is unapologetically over the top as the villainous Lord Kelvin, a pompous, raving lunatic of a British minister who bullies
everyone around him both verbally and physically. Particularly
nasty is his penchant for throwing handfuls of dart-like writing quills into the backs of his lackeys when angry.
Around the World in 80 Days is the fi rst action fi lm directed
by Frank Coraci, whose previous works include The Waterboy
and The Wedding Singer.
Coraci lets Chan run rampant, cashing in on his status
as the world s foremost martial-arts comedian. Passepartout
delivers a series of slapstick showdowns in which he battles the enemy with everything from his bare hands and feet to a pot of hot water.
(Count on Chan pausing in the heat of battle, looking around
for a split second, then either grabbing a household object
to use as a weapon or fi nding a creative escape route.)
One of the most amusing features of Around the World
in 80 Days is the celebrity cameos, a highlight of the 1956 fi lm
in which Frank Sinatra, George Raft, Marlene Dietrich, and
Buster Keaton were among the stars making brief appearances.
The remake carries on the tradition with cameos by Rob
Schneider, John Cleese, Kathy Bates as Queen Victoria, Macy
Gray, Luke and Owen Wilson as Orville and Wilbur Wright,
and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who sports a Donna
Summer-style wig and tries to nab Monique as his seventh
wife ( One for each day of the week, he says with a grin. Do
Tuesdays work for you? )
As Fogg, Passepartout, and La Roche trot around the globe, the transitions to each region are visually stunning, with the camera zooming into the new locations via brief, colorful, computerized videos, which quickly dissolve into live-action scenes.
Like The Wedding Singer, Coraci s Around the World in 80 Days is goofy and sweet and lighter than air. And like The Waterboy, its violence is farcical fun.
Unlike the 1956 movie, the new Around the World in 80
Days won t be a candidate for the Best Picture Oscar. But it s
a clean, family-friendly Hollywood action fi lm with no bad
language or sexual situations which makes it a much
rarer achievement these days than winning a global race.