Tuesday, 3 February 2009

Around the World in 80 Days

Lowdown: Jules Verne meets Jackie Chan.
You would think Jules Verne's story, Around the World in 80 Days, is so good it doesn't need any retouching. You would think so, but obviously you would be at a minority in Hollywood: their latest version of this story from 2004 twists the original so strongly it managed to really annoy me.
Don't get me wrong; Around the World in 80 Days is an entertaining film, albeit it being aimed fairly and squarely at the kids' department. The problem is, it aims itself at the dumb kids' department.
The basics of the story are the same as the Verne original: A 19th century British guy (Steve Coogan) wages a bet on which a lot of prestige is hanging, claiming he can go around the world in 80 days; the film follows said journey. So far so good; the problem is that in the role of Passepartout, his helpful servant, we have ourselves Jackie Chan. I like Chan, but in order to fit him in the plot was drastically altered: Chan is a Chinese warrior who steals an artifact that was originally stolen from his native Chinese village and now hitchhikes as Coogan's servant in order to get back home. And yes, other Chinese warriors, evil ones, are constantly on his tail, so Chan has to do his fighting shticks to get around.
The thing I disliked the most about this version of the film was the need to transform Coogan's character of Phileas Fogg into the mad scientist type. I never really liked Coogan, so this take on Verne's story suffers from the word go, but why the hell does the film need to distort his character so badly? What point is achieved by doing so, as well as by portraying his counterside on the bet as evil scientists? I find it a pity that science can only be marketed to kids if either crazy or evil scientists are involved. No wonder kids shy away from science or anything truly meaningful if this is the way society trains them to deal with it.
Throw in a token female character so that Coogan can have a romantic side, and you get yourself a very predictable film with not much standing for it other than the silly action scenes at the core of every major touristy place our heroes hit on their world tour. No doubt the moviemakers have realized the weakness of their film, so there is a significant reliance on some very famous and unlikely cameos throughout the film to spice it up. Those, however, are not always well linked to the film and are even sillier than its regular bits.
Silliest scene: No doubt there - Arnold Schwarzenegger as a narcsistic Turkish Sultan wins the title easily.
Best scenes: At the end of the day, the only reliable qualities come from Chan's action scenes.
Overall: Chan's good, but the film is a big flop. 2 out of 5 stars.

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