Monday, March 14, 2005

Around the World in 80 Days (2004) Review

There are some films that I make no plans, nor have any desire to see. Yet, sometimes, through circumstance, see them is exactly what I do. Recently, I was invited to dinner at a friends house. Another invitee decided to rent this Jackie Chan vehicle. Never to be one to turn down a free movie, I watched.

I am not one of Jackie Chan's fanboys. The action sequences in his films are generally spectacular, and often hilarious. But his film's lack of a cohesive narrative, god-awful dialogue, and horrid acting turn me off, more than any stunt can save. From time to time, I do manage to catch one of his films, even enough to notice their general degeneration of late. His earlier, non English films, though containing worse overall production value, had more bang for you buck. His American made films seem to be bent on adding plot and characterization at the detriment of the action. This might be commendable if the additional plotting was any good. But more often than not, it's just a glossy version of the same old schlock. Around the World in 80 Days follows this formula.

Waiting thirty minutes into a Jackie Chan film for the first action sequence is an atrocity. When that action sequence is lame, you might as well take up the pooper scooper and walk the dog. The movie followed this pattern. Thirty minutes of mind numbing story development followed by tame, lame action sequences. At a 120 minute run time and any way you divide it that's way to little hockey socky.

The plot is old and rehashed. Loosely based on the Jules Verne novel of the same name, Chan plays Lau Xing masquerading as Passpartout, servant of snooty inventor Phileas Fogg (Steve Coogan). Through a bet they impart on a journey around the world in...oh, who cares? Who watches a Jackie Chan film for the plot? And if you don't know this story by now, stick around and I'm sure they'll make another TV movie of it shortly.

Chan's English has improved greatly over the last time I watched him, which really isn't saying a whole lot. Why is Hollywood bent on making this man who barely speaks the language, and can't act to save himself, spend most of his movies talking and acting? And all to keep him from doing the one thing he does very well: beating the crap out of people in creative and hilarious ways?

The film is scattered with high profile cameos. Most interesting of which is the now California governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger's turn as a Turkish prince. The others are mostly pointless and unfunny cameos designed to make the audience go "oh that's Rob Schneider" and miss the fact that he's amazingly unfunny and his character serves no particular point. The casting of Kathy Bates as the Queen seems most spectacularly ill placed. Her British accent is appalling. Was it to hard to find a real Brit to play this role? Some of my French friends have better British accents than that.

With the exception of but a few moments, the fight scenes, few that we get, are unspectacular. They joy of Jackie Chan is in his ability to stage acrobatic action sequences while using a odd array of props. Chairs, stools, flags, culinary devices have all served as weapons in previous pictures, yet here he is mostly intent on using his hands fighting against regular swords and blades. It's not that the action is terrible per say, but that they pale in comparison with so many of the others he has performed.

There is really nothing to recommend this movie. It is appropriate enough. There is little to offend the younger sensibilities (besides the acting, plot, and production values)If you have children, I suppose, they might find it silly enough to enjoy. But, with so many other quality films out there appropriate for children, I can't make myself recommend this one to them either.

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