Originally created 06/16/04

At the Movies: 'Around the World in 80 Days'



"Speed is good, only when wisdom leads the way," Edward R. Murrow warns during the prologue to the original "Around the World in 80 Days."

The people responsible for remaking the movie apparently didn't heed his advice.

While the journey was the destination in the 1956 Michael Todd production (which won five Oscars, including best picture), this slick new version can't seem to get back to London fast enough.

While the original was big and beautiful, with tens of thousands of extras (68,894 to be exact, according to the video box), it had some neat small moments, too. Floating in a hot air balloon across the Alps with David Niven, Cantinflas grabs armfuls of snow from a mountaintop and stuffs it in a bucket to chill a bottle of champagne. The entire sequence occurs wordlessly, a foreign concept in the remake, which overwhelms with wall-to-wall dialogue, music and sound effects.

Calling this a remake isn't entirely accurate, since it only vaguely resembles the source material and the 1873 Jules Verne novel that inspired it.

It still features a London gentleman named Phileas Fogg, who agrees to circumnavigate the globe on a bet. (Comedian Steve Coogan fills in for Niven, and replaces his prim, controlled demeanor with wide-eyed mania and non-stop chatter.)

And as in the first film, celebrities galore populate the picture in cameos, though not even close to the same caliber. While the 1956 movie featured glimpses of Frank Sinatra, Buster Keaton, John Gielgud and Marlene Dietrich, the stars this time include Macy Gray, Rob Schneider and Richard Branson.

Arnold Schwarzenegger is good for a couple of laughs, though, as Turkish Prince Hapi. Wearing a curly black wig that makes him look like Gene Simmons on steroids, the California governor jokes while sitting in the hot tub, "I'm such a fool, always embarrassing myself in front of visiting dignitaries." Real-life brothers Luke and Owen Wilson make the most amusing appearance of all as Orville and Wilbur Wright.

But this is really a Jackie Chan movie, as evidenced by his name above the title and his prominent listing as stunt choreographer. Chan plays the Cantinflas role of Passepartout, Fogg's faux French valet who gets dragged along for the journey. He's also a thief with a heart of gold, having stolen a jade Buddha from the Bank of England, and he's using Fogg to help him return the object to its rightful spot in his Chinese village.

The fight sequences (and there are a lot of them) display all of Chan's trademark energy and inventiveness - the best features Passepartout back home, battling a skilled enemy while using a small wooden bench as a shield, a weapon and a dance partner all at once.

Somewhere amid all this madness, director Frank Coraci - working from a script by three guys named David (Titcher, Benullo and Goldstein) - wedges in a romance between Fogg and aspiring painter Monique (Cecile de France).

Coraci is a longtime friend of Adam Sandler's, and directed the Sandler films "The Waterboy" and "The Wedding Singer," which should tell you a little something about his interest in subtlety.

Coogan, when he's alone and during the film's quieter moments, shows glimmers of the humor that made him a star in Britain with his Alan Partridge character on radio and television.

Those opportunities are rare, though. This is a film that's more interested in keeping kids entertained with animated sequences and sped-up footage, gadgets and bright colors.

In that sense, this "Around the World in 80 Days" is even more family friendly than its predecessor. But that certainly doesn't make it better.

"Around the World in 80 Days," a Walt Disney release, is rated PG for action violence, some crude humor and mild language. Running time: 125 minutes. One and a half stars out of four.