Phileas Fogg (Steve Coogan) is an inventor whose rather unorthodox methods have not endeared him to the rather staid members of the Royal Academy of Science. When Lord Kelvin (Jim Broadbent) mocks Foggs’ theories, a wager is proposed wherein if Fogg can not circumnavigate the Earth within 80 days he has to cease his inventing. Embarking on the trip, Fogg is unaware that his new valet Passeportout (Jackie Chan) has stolen a jade carved Buddha statuette from the Bank of England to return it to his home village in China from where it was stolen. Attempting to stop Passeportout are the minions of General Fang (Karen Mok) a Chinese warlord looking to take over the village.
The casting of Jackie Chan in the role of Passepartout seems like a great idea at first glance. However, the producers have made that the crux on which they hang one of the major narrative changes to Jules Verne’s classic story. In the film version of the musical Grease, the writers and producers came up with a throw away line to explain star Olivia Newton John’s accent. But for this version of Around The World In 80 Days, the plot point about a robbery at the Bank Of England, for which Fogg is suspected of in the original novel, is transferred to Chan’s character and fleshed out to the point where Passepartout’s role threatens to overshadow Foggs’ role in the story. The alteration also doesn’t work due to the fact that the story line, by its very nature, is destined to end in China, only half way through the group’s trans-global journey. The attempt to further extend the story to a confrontation in New York City feels even more forced than the rest of the story line. This moving of Passpartout to center stage somewhat overshadows the character of Fogg, which is a shame as Coogan does some enjoyable work in keeping the character funny, without being a buffoon, delivering great readings on such lines as Fogg’s irritated exclamation, “This is what happens when you leave your home, you meet people!”
Like the original 1956 film version, for which the term “cameo role” was coined, this new version of Around The World In 80 Days has its share of stars appearing in bit parts. Arnold Schwarzenegger pokes fun at the accusations of being a womanizer that surfaced during his run for governor of California as a Turkish prince. Luke and Owen Wilson appear as a pair of historical brothers who will inspire Fogg in a moment of crisis while Jackie Chan fans will enjoy the appearance of a certain actor during the Chinese village sequence. Other appearances I’ll leave for you to discover.
The movie does its best to try and please its audience with a puppy-like determination that makes it hard to stay annoyed with it for too long, even when some of its humor falls flat, ultimately making this new version of Around The World In 80 Days a harmless way to spend two hours this summer.