Friday, July 30, 2004

What do you mean you have to go?!

Contrary to what critics say, I found Around the World in 80 Days to be fun and very entertaining. I'm not sure how much of the original story has been changed since all I know about the story came from watching old cartoons shown in TV. British actor Steve Coogan's Phileas Fogg is a joy to watch, a laid back Stan Laurel to Jackie Chan's Oliver Hardy in Passepartout. This time Director Frank Coraci's adaptation of Jules Verne's classic has Fogg as an eccentric man of a science who longs to break free from the sameness that present science has to offer. He longs to see things yet to be invented like machines that could help man fly, electricity illuminating the night sky, modes of transportation without the help of horses and other beasts of burden, etc. That's why when the opportunity rose up for him to head the Royal Academy of Science through a wager between him and the head of the Academy, Lord Kelvin (Jim Broadbent) that he could travel around the world in 80 days then the vaunted position would be his but if not his house would be demolished and he would be barred from inventing anything ever again. So off they went to fulfill a quest and on their first stop the way they were joined by the lovely and headstrong Monique (Cecile De France). She's a coatcheck girl cum frustrated artist who became enamored with the idea of seeing the world on a whim. Also on the duo's first stop in France you'd see three familiar impressionist painters peering from the background, two in the art salon and one in the bordello. I'm not sure if there are others but the three painters shown were Henri Matisse, Vincent Van Gogh, and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec.

Half of the funnies and most of the visual treats come from Jackie Chan's trademark martial arts stunts which he still performs with much aplomb though I miss the old stunts he did in his previous movies. And all in the spirit of fun, various actors and actresses have made cameo appearances throughout the whole movie playing an assortment of oddball characters like Arnold Schwarzenegger as the egotistical art collector, Prince Hapi of Turkey who commissioned reknowned sculptor Auguste Rodin to do a customized version of "The Thinker" for his birthday, the villainess General Fang played with glee by Hong Kong actress Karen Mok, Sammo Hung Kam-Bo appeared as the leader of the mysterious 10 Tigers and brother of Jackie Chan, Macy Gray as a sleeping French woman, Rob Schneider as a hobo in San Francisco who has a creative way of panhandling, Luke and Owen Wilson as the Wright Brothers in their pre-airplane invention days, Mark Addy as the captain of the steamer en route back to England, John Cleese the skeptical sergeant of the Bobby, and Kathy Bates as Queen Victoria. Even Director Coraci couldn't resist appearing as an English pedestrian. I just didn't like the absence of real danger from the villain. Lord Kelvin was bad enough and Karen Mok's character just doesn't cut it at all, all she does is parade around like a refugee from the Chinese theater. In fact the whole production could have done away with the Chinese General (the confrontation scenes in China and New York feels overdone) and not be affected by the lack of one character. Not that the movie suffers at all, aside from the usual slow moments involving the cliché scenes of betrayal-of-trust-between-two-friends-progressing-to-a-joyful-reconciliation-before-the-big-finale and Jackie's stereotyped role as an-emissary-from-a-village-in-China-sent-to-the-West-to-bring-back-a-stolen-treasure which is really getting old, the whole thing was one big enjoyable ride. Just keep your eyes peeled for famous historical personalities and events scattered throughout the whole film. Like this one trivia which is tied up with the movie: There is a Lord Kelvin who headed the The Royal Society - The UK National Academy of Science from 1890-1895. His whole name was Sir William Thomson Kelvin and though he wasn't related in any way to Queen Victoria, he formulated the Law of Thermodynamics and a refrigerator brand was named after him.

* Check out also the review in Hollywood Jesus for more insightful reactions to this great movie.

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