For someone like me, who enjoys Jules Verne's classic novels, reviewing a big, Hollywood, kid-friendly modern day movie adaptation of Around The World In 80 Days isn't easy. Especially since, usually, these new adaptations barely have anything to do with the source material.
Remember that Journey To The Centre Of The Earth 3D movie with Brendan Fraser?
Honestly, I was expecting about the same level of laziness from this movie. I thought this would bypass the book completely and do its own thing without ever referencing what it's actually adapting. Surprisingly, as much as the movie changes stuff from the book, and it changes A LOT, there is still an attempt to keep the basics of that plot in there. For example, the whole arc which follows Jackie Chan's character and is, in fact, a big subplot in the movie: none of it happens in the book. Something about a Jade Buddha being stolen from Chan's village in China, him robbing it back and these villains trying to recover it again. I was about to throw in the towel after this whole thing was introduced when Chan's character takes the role of Passepartout, Phileas Fogg's (Steve Coogan) valet. Then the film gets somewhat back on track and the basic plot of the book leads the way. Of course, the film goes off the rails more than once after that but that was inevitable. The irony is that Jackie Chan and his subplot make up the best parts of the film which really begs the question: why did this even need to be an Around The World In 80 Days movie? Honestly, this should have just been an original Jackie Chan adventure comedy. Then you wouldn't have had idiots like me complaining about how far away it is from the book AND you would have had an actually really decent and original kids movie! Instead, we're left to go around the world (which is made up almost entirely of bad CGI, by the way) with essentially two movies in one as we jump from one cameo appearance to the other.
You've got Arnold Schwarzenegger as a Turkish prince in his last movie role before becoming The Governator, Luke and Owen Wilson as cowboys, Kathy Bates as Queen Victoria, John Cleese, Will Forte, Michael Youn, Rob Schneider, Macy Gray, Richard Branson, the list goes on. Even historical characters get cameo appearances from Vincent Van Gogh to Wong Fei Hung (Sammo Hung). It really gets a bit too much, especially since, by the end, the film clearly runs out of time and rushes through the last part of Fogg's trip with a montage! Ewen Bremner is relegated to Clouseau-esque slapstick duties as Inspector Fix, a much darker and more interesting character in the book. Actually, even Fogg is much darker and mysterious in the novel. Steve Coogan plays him as the typical eccentric mad inventor and as charming as Coogan is in the role, I kinda wish they'd kept the shady nature of the character intact since, frankly, that's the whole point of Phileas Fogg: you don't really know who he is or what he's about until the very end! Hell, during most of the book you basically see him as a criminal! But it's a kids movie and I get that studios are more interested in keeping the action moving and keeping younger viewers entertained thanks to about a hundred comic relief characters and action-packed, cartoonish sequences. As much as the film is nothing like the book and as much as I dislike a lot of it, I don't hate it. It's dumb, it's silly, it's about as deep as a puddle and, at times, is really patronising and over-the top (yes Jim Broadbent, I'm talking about you), yet I'd be lying if I said it wasn't entertaining and at times humorous. It never got as annoying as something like The Smurfs or Alvin And The Chipmunks. At least the film has enough ambition to provide something more substantial than those did!
As an adaptation of Jules Verne's classic novel, Around The World In 80 Days is just too childish, too goofy and too shallow to really be any good. As a Jackie Chan kid-friendly action comedy, however, it works just enough to keep younger viewers amused and adults relatively interested in what's going on. The combined charms of Chan and Coogan really do save this movie from being completely invaluable. Some of the cameos are also fun. As it stands, it's not great by any stretch of the imagination but it's not bad either.
There are much worse kids movies out there, this is just kind of...