Around the World in 80 Days lapses into the occasional long stretch where it feels like an exercise in real-time moviemaking.
Thankfully, and for the first time since 1998’s Rush Hour, Jackie Chan kick-starts an American production just as it’s in fear of sputtering out.
Chan is the fighting focus of this big-budget update of Jules Verne’s classic story. And though the sacred artifact he’s trying to protect looks like a Chinese-restaurant trinket, watching him battle to preserve its security is awfully fun.
Those wondering what a sacred jade Buddha has to do with inventor Phileas Fogg (Steve Coogan, sort of like a bumbling British Hugh Jackman) and his quest to do what the title says lack the mindset of studio suits finding a reason to squeeze Chan into the mix. The Buddha is part of a British plot to grab China for itself, as it has so much of Asia circa 1872. (British manifest destiny is used for comic relief here, as one overweight British lord cackles, “Thank God we own India.”)
But they don’t own China — not yet, says Chan’s Lau Xing, who has stolen the Buddha from evil British hands to return to his village. On the run from the cops, he literally falls into Fogg’s life and becomes his valet as escape cover. When he learns of Fogg’s outlandish plan, it’s an added bonus that will get him back to his village.
Of course, Fogg’s inventing career hinges on his success, and they must outrun Chinese assassins, bumbling English policemen and an armada of stars slumming in cameos. OK, so they’re not all bad, but Macy Gray, Mark Addy (as a ship captain with missing nipples), Rob Schneider and John Cleese all are unnecessary here.
Luke and Owen Wilson show up for a laconic break in the action as the Wright Brothers. Chan’s Chinese-film action buddy, Sammo Hung, shows up for a whuppin’. And, most notably, Arnold Schwarzenegger, as a Turkish prince, dons a wig that makes him look like Roseanne Rosannadanna on steroids.
But a greater joy than playing “Spot the Star” lies in the fantastic fight scenes that Chan not only choreographed, but probably also just directed himself. Frank Coraci, director of two Adam Sandler comedies, filmed the rest, retaining a nice look of semi-cheesy 1960s colorfulness.
A great grapple ensues in an Impressionist art gallery (along with a great joke at Vincent Van Gogh’s expense), and even though Chan’s use of a ladder as a weapon echoes his First Strike, it’s used in an interesting way to get to a tussle in the Statue of Liberty.
It has sluggish spots, yes, but Chan’s chops provide all the giddy energy it needs to thread the story through to the next confrontation. It’s fairly fast, zips some good zingers at the audience through Coogan, and is just the sort of instantly forgettable fun parents can have with their kids.