Around the World in Eighty Days

Around the World in 80 Days (2004)

It’s rare when an Oscar winner for best picture gets remade into a feature-length film again.

By my decidedly unscientific calculations — and not including TV versions — it’s happened just four times: 1931’s “Cimarron” (remade in 1961); 1935’s “Mutiny on the Bounty” (1962 and 1984); 1948’s “Hamlet” (numerous); and now 1956’s “Around the World in 80 Days,” which has been transformed into a Jackie Chan/Walt Disney family picture.

In some ways, it’s not a bad choice. The original Oscar winner is something of a bore, more travelogue than drama, so a remake could enliven the story. On the other hand, the idea of a rich Englishman with a minority servant is a bit problematic today.

The new “80 Days” handles any embarrassment this might cause by making Phileas Fogg (Steve Coogan) less stiff-lipped, time-keeping Brit than hapless inventor in need of a hug, while his valet, Passepartout (Jackie Chan), is, well, Jackie Chan, the star of the picture, who plays a man with his own agenda.

Both films begin with bank robberies, but this time the culprit is actually Passepartout, who steals a jade Buddha that was originally stolen from his village in China. He takes the valet job as a cover, and suggests the trip around the world — which comes off not as a gentleman’s wager, but as a schoolyard taunting between Fogg and the evil Lord Kelvin (Jim Broadbent) — in order to make it back to China.

The 1956 version had numerous star cameos (Marlene Dietrich, Frank Sinatra), and the new film continues this tradition: Luke and Owen Wilson as Orville and Wilbur Wright; Sammo Hung as Chinese legend Wong Fei Hung. But the oddest cameo has to belong to gubenator Arnold Schwarzenegger as a Turkish prince, who, sporting a frizzy, dark Prince Valiant wig, attempts to make off with Fogg’s love interest, Monique La Roche (Cécil de France).

The 80 days go by fast, light and sloppy. Director Frank Coraci (“The Wedding Singer”) crams it all in and drives the film forward, but loses the sense — which the original had — of what a big place the world used to be.

The kids won’t mind, though — it’s properly silly and slapsticky — while there are belly-laughs for the adults. Coogan, a star in Britain, and rising here, is hilarious as Fogg. Unfortunately, de France is miscast. Her edges are just too sharp for such a soft comedy.

As for Jackie Chan? At 50, bless him, he can still move like a slippery bar of soap. There’s a great fight scene in his village in which he picks up a small wooden bench to defend himself. For those who know his early films, this is like Fred Astaire picking up a top hat and cane. You know the guy with the sword has no chance.

—This review originally appeared in The Seattle Times on June 16, 2004.

© 2004 Erik Lundegaard