Disney // 2004 // 120 Minutes // Rated PG
Reviewed by Judge Maurice Cobbs (Retired) // December 17th, 2004
Let your imagination soar.
Once, long ago, in a faraway land, there lived a courageous young actor named Jackie. Jackie's natural charm and amazing physical abilities quickly made him an international superstar, and he made many fine movies. Audiences laughed at his antics, thrilled to his adventures, and marveled at his martial arts skill. He dazzled them with his breathtaking stunts -- dangerous, exciting stunts that he performed himself. He became the greatest action star in the world, and it was good.
Then one day, Jackie decided to journey to a mysterious land called Hollywood. Hollywood was a strange place; people there did things differently from what Jackie was used to. But he could seem to do no wrong; his movies were just as big in the new land as they had been in the old. And so one day he decided that if he made movies they way they did in Hollywood, he could become an even bigger star. Jackie sold his soul to that king of sinful sots, Michael Eisner, expecting to delight audiences as he had in his native country. But it all went wrong. Instead of being exciting, his movies became lame. Instead of being funny, his movies became stupid. Jackie's star began to fall, and he struggled valiantly against it. But his movies got worse and worse (The Tuxedo, The Medallion) until he hit rock bottom -- at which point Eisner handed Jackie a shovel and told him to start digging.
The result is Around the World In 80 Days, which is exactly the sort of garbage I have come to expect from the misologists at today's Disney.
Jackie Chan (Rush Hour) is Lau Xing, a daring Chinese thief who steals a valuable jade Buddha from the Bank of England. With the bobbies hot on his trail, Lau seeks refuge with a brilliant but eccentric London inventor and adventurer, Phileas Fogg (Steve Coogan), changing his name to Passepartout and posing as Fogg's valet. Fogg is at odds with the members of the Royal Science Academy, and especially with its Minister of Science, Lord Kelvin (Jim Broadbent, Moulin Rouge!), who all consider Fogg to be a crackpot with absurd ideas. When Fogg suggests that it is possible to circumnavigate the globe in 80 days or less, a bet is made: If Fogg can indeed perform this feat, Lord Kelvin will resign and Fogg will be installed in his place. But if he should fail, he must abandon his beloved inventing forever. With everything on the line, Fogg begins his frantic trip -- with a Scotland Yard detective right after him, who suspects that Fogg himself was the Bank thief! But why is Lord Kelvin consorting with a brutal female Chinese warlord? Can Fogg successfully sidestep Kelvin's attempts to thwart him? Why did Lau Xing steal that Buddha, anyway? And who the nine infernal regions of fiery Hell thought this movie was a good idea? How do they sleep at night?
I've gotten pretty used to hearing about how Hollywood screws up classic literature; not too long ago, my colleague Appellate Judge Amanda DeWees was on a rant about the recent awful version of Vanity Fair. But this movie is a new low. I'm not gonna beat around the bush here: This movie stinks like a backed-up New Orleans drainage ditch. It's the sort of cinematic DDT that is slowly but surely killing off the brain cells of American movie audiences, and a terrifying example of the war that Hollywood has begun on the classics. You thought that The Time Machine was kind of lame? You thought that A Wrinkle in Time was a travesty? Brother, you ain't seen nothin' yet. This movie is pure garbage, a disgrace to Jules Verne's original work that lacks even the charm of the name-that-celebrity atmosphere provided by the outrageous cameos of the tedious but vastly superior 1956 version starring David Niven.
So I have to wonder -- what exactly happened to the $110 million dollars that some poor sucker forked out for this trash? It didn't go to special effects, because the effects are lame, cartoonish, and unconvincing. It didn't go toward sets, because most of the sets look like they were stolen from high school stage productions. It couldn't have possibly gone to the writers. Did David Titcher, David Benuello, and David Goldstein offer this mortifyingly unfunny screenplay in protest against low wages and poor working conditions? Or do they hold some bitter grudge against the heirs of Jules Verne? Maybe director Frank Coraci (The Wedding Singer) was involved in some sort of scam along the lines of The Producers by which he would make the worst possible movie and collect the insurance when it flopped. Whatever the case, the lot of them need to be taken to a public place and vigorously fustigated.
It's the sort of arrogance that seems only to reach such critical levels in the minds of hack Hollywood screenwriters: Let's take a story that has been loved by millions of people for well over a hundred years and has enthralled them with its blend of adventure, suspense, and romance, and make it better. By changing the ultra-cool, ultra-precise Phileas Fogg into a bungling idiot. By throwing out entire subplots to make room for their own absurd Chinese warlord storyline. By overloading the film with tired, worn-out slapstick routines and unfunny sight gags. By splurging on cartoonish, silly computer effects. By adding kung fu, for pity's sake. Sweet leaping Jesus, they added kung fu.
I think it goes without saying that Jackie Chan was a poor choice to play Passepartout. Not even a poorly thought-out tacked-on "save the poor village from invading warlords" subplot can change that. Then again, maybe it doesn't go without saying, because look -- there he is. Am I the only one who's beginning to think that Jackie Chan is just a wee bit overexposed at this particular moment in time? Even his parade of stunts, once so entertaining, has grown stale and worn thin. Papa needs to get a brand new bag. Steve Coogan as Phileas Fogg is so bland and flavorless that it's no wonder they didn't even bother to put his name on the cover of the DVD. Coogan is allegedly a comedian, although there is little evidence to support that here. However, it does make sense that he has been compared to Peter Sellers: Coogan is as stiff and lifeless as Sellers is currently (even if he lacks Sellers's present range of emotion). Likewise, Cecile De France's emotions run the gamut from spirited and perky to spirited and perky in her American debut as Monique La Rouche, an aspiring French painter who's being kept down by "da man" -- in this case, literally. Will she be able to let her imagination soar and find herself and who really gives a damn, anyway? At least she's nice to look at. Karen Mok also unfortunately makes her American debut here, as the Chinese warlord General Fang, who struts around in disco-style jumpsuits. I guess you gotta start somewhere; I'll try not to hold this against her in the future. Human punching bag Ewen Bremner (Alien vs. Predator) portrays Inspector Fix, who has been put on Fogg's trail by Lord Kelvin, and spends the entire movie being slapped, beaten, kicked, defenestrated, and otherwise assaulted. The only real pleasure I got from this movie was imagining the director and writers in his place.
Included with the disc are some lukewarm special features: Jackie Chan's martial arts and stunt work is the subject of "Around the World of Jackie Chan," and "Discovering Around the World in 80 Days" offers a behind-the-scenes look at the movie. Pretty standard Disney Channel filler material. Also standard, for Disney, is the asinine music video "Everyone All Over the World" -- the typical sort of brain-rotting treacle that Disney mass-produces these days. There's other stuff: deleted scenes (though not nearly enough of them, if you get my meaning), and a commentary for those masochists among you who would like to see the movie twice, or for those of you who demand some sort of explanation for this rubbish.
But wait. There's more.
It's not enough that they had to badly miscast this movie. No, they had to also add cameos. These run the gamut from mildly amusing (Owen and Luke Wilson as Wilbur and Orville Wright) to pointless (Macy Gray -- who is credited as, I kid you not, "Sleeping French Woman." What the -- ?) to astoundingly, eye-poppingly bad (Arnold Schwarzenegger as a poodle-haired Turkish prince, in his worst screen appearance since Hercules Goes Bananas). However, I must admit that I thought the cameo by Sir Richard Branson was absolutely hysterical, in context, providing one real, sincere laugh in this two-hour movie. Not content to destroy the careers of those associated with this movie, the filmmakers also take vicious swipes at those long dead, in what may be one of the most brutal mischaracterizations of actual historical figures since Titanic. Lord Kelvin, played here by the usually delightful Jim Broadbent (who understandably but unsuccessfully attempts to conceal his identity by slathering his cheeks with outrageously bushy sideburns), is presented as a vicious, scheming, greedy, volatile buffoon. This is pretty much the equivalent of presenting Albert Einstein as a drooling, slack-jawed idiot; by all accounts, Kelvin was one of history's most brilliant, most respected, and most honored scientists. Jim, if I'd known that you needed cash this badly, I'd have taken up a collection from the rest of the Verdict judges. Sheesh.
Oh, hell. I can't waste many more of my words or much more of my time on this mess. To sum up, in the immortal words of critic Jay Sherman: "It stinks!"
I feel like I've been assaulted (and not in the fun way, the one that involves a whip-wielding Elizabeth Hurley). Jackie Chan, go home. Take a vacation. Take some personal time, reflect, think about where your life is going. Stop doing this to your legacy. Shame on you, Jackie. Shame, shame, shame.
And another thing: When did the expression "family film" become a code word for "brain-meltingly stupid with piss-poor acting and plots that don't even attempt to make sense"? Has it ever even occurred to anyone that it is possible to make a "family film" that doesn't involve either crotch shots or fart jokes? Do Hollywood filmmakers have so little respect for the intelligence of the "family audience" that they feel the need to remove all intelligence entirely? Have things gotten so bad that this sort of mindless, moronic trash is the norm, rather than the thankfully rare exception? But then again, this is the moviegoing public for whom 2 Fast 2 Furious and Van Helsing were tailored. It's obvious that Hollywood has ceased to respect anyone's intelligence, least of all ours. Do you want to know how Eisner's Disney can afford their electricity? They built a generator around the grave of Walt Disney.
Thank God for Pixar.
Guilty. Feed them to the Sharkticons.
Review content copyright © 2004 Maurice Cobbs; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 2.35:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (French)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (Spanish)
Running Time: 120 Minutes
Release Year: 2004
MPAA Rating: Rated PG
* Never-Before-Seen Director's Alternate Opening
* Deleted Scenes
* "Around the World of Jackie Chan" Featurette
* "Discovering Around the World in 80 Days" Featurette
* Cast and Filmmaker Commentary
* "Everybody All Over the World" Music Video
* Official Site