Release Date:  June 16, 2004
Rating:  PG (for action violence, some crude humor and mild language.)
Genre:  Adventure/Comedy
Run Time: 119 minutes
Director:  Frank Coracci
Actors:   Jackie Chan, Steve Coogan, Cecile De France, Robert Fyfe, Jim Broadbent, Ian MacNiece, David Ryall,

Jackie Chan (“Rush Hour”) is up to his usual antics, in a remake of a classic novel that won’t go down in history, but is mostly safe for older kids.

When a strange Asian man (Chan) drops out of a tree, scientist Phileas Fogg (Steve Coogan, “24 Hour Party People”) believes the lie that “Passepartout,” a name he thought of on the spur of the moment, is a French valet looking for work. In reality, Passpartout (real name: Lao Xing), has just robbed the Bank of England of a precious jade statue that was recently stolen from his village in China. Working for Fogg is the perfect way to hide from the authorities, who are on Xing’s trail. And, since Fogg has scared off his other valets by making them participate in crazy inventions – his passion – Fogg hires the all-too-willing Passpartout.

Fogg then makes a bet with Lord Kelvin (Jim Broadbent), the powerful head of England’s scientific community, that he can circumnavigate the globe in 80 days. Fogg sees it as a way to gain acceptance for his ideas, and agrees to tear down his laboratory, should he fail. Should he win, however, he will take Kelvin’s position. Passepartout sees the trip as the perfect way to get home quickly with the statue and evade arrest. So, along with Monique, (Cecile de France), a pretty French Impressionist painter the men meet on their first stop in Paris, they begin their trip. But, General Fang, the Chinese warlord who stole the statue from Lao Xing’s village, is in cahoots with Lord Kelvin. She dispatches her gang to stop Passepartout. Kelvin sends a bumbling sergeant from Scotland Yard.

The best-known version of this film is Michael Anderson’s interpretation of the classic novel by Jules Verne. Nominated for eight Oscars, it won the award for Best Picture in 1956. However, the fact that most of the cameos in the film also happened to be voting members of the Academy did not go unnoticed – especially to the film’s critics, who were many. Frank Coracci’s (“The Waterboy,” “The Wedding Singer”) updated version, which boasts cameos by Arnold Schwarzenegger, Rob Schneider, Owen and Luke Wilson, Kathy Bates and Macy Gray, to name just a few, may well be hoping for a similar fate. Coracci certainly spent enough money ($110 million), although he didn’t find a distributor (Walt Disney) until the last minute. 

This film has a few nominally funny sequences, like a fight scene with multi-colored paint, that children will appreciate. It has a good amount of violence – mostly kicking and punching, in the martial arts style, but also scary knives and knife-like weapons. Chan’s usual antics have been toned down, however, and adults are likely to find the fight scenes as ho-hum as the dialogue. The CGI graphics, which show various cities around the world, are beautiful and uniquely Disney, and together with shots of places like the Great Wall of China, will offer excellent opportunities for conversations about geography, travel, culture and foreign languages. The half dozen or so profanities and obscenities (including the British “bloody”) are mostly mild. Fogg gets drunk and flails about, as does Passepartout’s Chinese family, around the dinner table. And the romance between Fogg and Monique is chaste, although in one hot tub scene, the tops of her breasts are unnecessarily exposed in her bathing suit.

Chan’s role comes off as somewhat of a caricature that might well be offensive to Asians, but it’s what he usually offers, and it’s been successful so far. Coogan and De France give solid performances. The best part about the movie is the cameos, however, although Schwarzenegger, who appears in a wig as a lusty Turkish prince, is silly and makes us wonder if he’s in on the joke about womanizing. Like several other scenes that dragged, these needed editing, which would have helped with the film’s length and pacing. The plot is far-fetched and also drags, but the costumes are beautiful.

The film contains a strong message about the importance of creativity, science and the entrepreneurial spirit. There is lots of talk about inventions like roller skates, bicycles and planes that could peak children’s interest in science, if prodded. It might be fun for parents to help their children invent something and apply for a patent – it’s easier than you might think. For more information, visit the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office at www.uspto.gov.

With its portrayal of Lord Kelvin, the film has an anti-authoritarian bent that is reinforced by a scene where children “educate” adults about the meaning of life – yet another instance of a film reversing roles between children and adults. It also has a mystical undertone that will need debunking, with a reference to legends being based in fact (later proven to be true), and a scene where the Chinese worship their ancestors.

Unlike its predecessor, this film won’t garner any awards, and adults aren’t likely to be impressed. But, with a few exceptions, it is decent entertainment for the family.

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