Around the World in 80 Days
Reviewed by: Brett Willis
Better than Average
Families, Kids, Adults
Action Adventure, Comedy
Year of Release:
June 16, 2004
I’m not sure what Jules Verne would think of this newest rendition of his forward-looking Sci-Fi novel. It plays fast and loose with history and it departs radically from the original story, although there are hidden tricks whereby it’s sometimes closer to the original than we at first assume. It’s nothing like the 1956 Best Picture Oscar-winner or any other film adaptation. It’s a modern comedy-satire, built around poking fun at everything it can and nibbling at the edges of its PG rating.
In this version, the valet Passepartout (Jackie Chan) is the first-billed and lead character, rather than his master Phineas Fogg (Steve Coogan). How Chan comes to have a French name and identity is one of many humorous twists. And when Detective Fixx chases Fogg and Passepartout on the suspicion that they’re connected to the Bank of England robbery, he’s CORRECT this time. But since Passepartout, otherwise known as Lau Xing, was only stealing back a jade Buddha that was stolen from his village by Lord Kelvin (Jim Broadbent) and a female warrior named General Fang (Karen Mok, billed as Karen Joy Morris), Passepartout isn’t the bad guy. Except that he manipulates Fogg into the around-the-world trip, as a means of escaping the authorities and of delivering the Buddha back to his people. And instead of a widow from India, Fogg’s love interest is the French would-be impressionist painter Monique La Roche (Cécile De France). She too practices some deceit, as do many other characters.
The violence is heavy, but comedic in tone. Chan engages in fantastically-coreographed Martial Arts fights with many bad guys. But don’t think of these fights in Bruce Lee or Chuck Norris terms. Three Stooges would be more like it. The fights contain crotch and buttock violence, bloodless stabbings, and lots of sight gags. But no one is killed anywhere in the film.
There are sprinkles of mild profanity like d* and h* and various low-grade insults. Some mild cleavage, Middle Eastern girls in belly-dancing outfits, and some sexually suggestive situations and offhand references (including gay and cross-dressing jokes). Much of this material should go over the heads of younger children. Arnold Schwarzenegger has a cameo as a Turkish prince who tries to make Monique his seventh wife. “I have one for each day of the week. Does Tuesday work for you?”
The use of alcohol is shown several times, with Fogg becoming falling-down drunk on a couple of occasions. Smoking is shown a few times. We occasionally hear some gunshots in the background. There are thieves, pickpockets and other unsavory characters all along the trip.
I don’t particularly care for the practice of making fun of historical figures. The Wright Brothers (Owen Wilson and Luke Wilson) are shown as buffoonish, and the scientist Lord Kelvin is made an extremely nasty one-dimensional villain. The rights against invasion of privacy and against defamation of character are “personal” rights, meaning that they don’t survive the person. Legally, you can say almost anything you want about a deceased person. But that doesn’t mean it’s appropriate. (Kelvin is also shown as an anti-Evolutionist and as resistant to change, therefore casting those positions in a negative light.)
There’s some positive content along the lines of never giving up (Fogg) and of being loyal (both Passepartout and Monique “make up” for their deception of Fogg by voluntarily helping him out on the later legs of his journey, even when he says he doesn’t want their help).
The days when families could hop into the car for a fun night of seeing most any movie that was playing are, of course, long gone. To avoid being grossed out, you have to be very choosy. While far from perfect, this film is probably one of the “least bad” choices of the summer for a family outing.
Violence: Heavy / Profanity: Minor / Sex/Nudity: Mild
Here’s what the distributor says about their film: $110 million budget / “In this highly inventive take on Verne’s classic, Passepartout (Chan) must make it to China in order to return a valuable jade Buddha that was stolen from his family’s village. He seeks refuge with an eccentric London inventor, Phineas Fogg (Coogan), who puts his reputation, fortune, and career on the line in a daring bet to make it around the world in eighty days. Joining them is Monique (De France), a young French artist who decides that a trip around the world would provide new inspiration.