Dir: Frank Coraci. US.2004. 119mins.
Walden Media's costly self-financed family adventurefinally hits the screens with the Walt Disney Pictures stamp on it and provesworthy of the honour. Jules Verne purists and lovers of the three-hour 1956classic will do best to stay away, but family audiences will be guaranteed agood-natured summer entertainment which will please both kids and their parentsduring the holidays.
The film opens in the USthis weekend to generally favourable reviews and Disney can only hope that,with Shrek 2 finally starting to fall off, Around The Worldbecomes the next family must-see. International audiences attracted by thebrand name of the title and the star casting of Jackie Chan will respond inbigger numbers; in the UK, the first Hollywood starring role for localcelebrity Steve Coogan will give it even more box office fuel. By the time thefilm hits ancillary markets, Walden could have justified the $110m it spent torealise the film sans domestic distribution in place.
Walden's mission is tocombine entertainment with education and there are myriad opportunities foreducational applications in this story from French impressionist art to theWright Brothers' first solo flight across the Atlantic, from the physics of thehot-air balloon to the geography of the world.
Frank Coraci, the directorof Adam Sandler comedies The Waterboy and The Wedding Singer, wasentrusted with this epic adventure and he shows a firm grip, rarely letting thecomedy or Jackie Chan's action sequences get out of hand or grind the momentumof Phileas Fogg's journey to a halt.
His greatest ally in theoverall success of the film is Coogan who proves extremely likeable as Fogg.Even though Buena Vista is selling the film in North America with Jackie Chan'sname above the title, Coogan quite rightly dominates the proceedings and heovershadows Chan's tired slapstick antics by sheer force of personality.
Also impressive is Cecile deFrance who avoids the curse of the heavily accented Frenchwoman in Hollywood (witnessEmanuelle Beart in Mission: Impossible) by delivering her lines withclarity and charm.
Extreme liberties are takenwith the Verne novel, but the heart of the book is still intact. Like a HongKong Chan picture, it starts with the nimble one, whose character is called LauXing, stealing a Jade Buddha statuette from the Bank Of England in London 1890.He escapes the pursuing police by dropping in to the garden of eccentricinventor Fogg and agreeing to become his valet.
Fogg, it seems, is not takenseriously by the stuffy Royal Academy Of Science where the imperious LordKelvin (marvelous Jim Broadbent) mocks his dreams of creating a flying machine.In a particularly aggressive argument, Kelvin bets Fogg that he cannotcircumnavigate the globe in 80 days. If he wins, he takes over from Kelvin ashead of the Academy, if he loses he never steps foot in the building again.
Thus begins the epic journeyof Fogg and Lau Xing who has renamed himself Passepartout. It emerges that thejourney is convenient for Passepartout since he wants to return the Buddha tohis village in China whence it was stolen by the evil gang of assassins theBlack Scorpions. It also emerges that Kelvin is in league with the BlackScorpions and he assigns a hapless police inspector (Bremner) to sabotageFogg's trip and retrieve the Buddha.
In the duo's first stop,Paris, they take on a third voyager Monique (de France), a would-be painter whocomes along for the ride and provides love interest for Fogg.
Further stops along the wayinclude Istanbul where they are hosted by a randy prince (GovernorSchwarzenegger no less), India, China and then the USA. The film attempts, asdid the 1956 picture, to keep audiences alert by including a string of cameosincluding Schwarzenegger, Kathy Bates as Queen Victoria, Richard Branson, MacyGray, Rob Schneider and the Wilson brothers playing the Wright brothers.
Production values are fine,although not as lavish as might be expected from such a budget. Berlin fills ineffectively but, as any Brit will tell you, far from convincingly as London.
Prod cos: Walden Media
US dist: Buena Vista/Walt DisneyPictures
Int'l sales: Summit Entertainment(1) 310 309 8401
Exec prods: Jackie Chan, WillieChan, Solon So, Alex Schwartz, Phyllis Alia
Prods: Hal Lieberman, BillBadalato
Scr: David Titcher, David Benullo& David Goldstein
Cine: Phil Meheux
Prod des: Perry Andelin Blake
Ed: Tom Lewis
Mus: Trevor Jones
Main cast: Jackie Chan, SteveCoogan, Cecile de France, Jim Broadbent, Ewen Bremner, Ian McNeice, Sammo Hung,Karen Joy Morris, Mark Addy, John Cleese, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Luke Wilson,Owen Wilson, Rob Schneider, Kathy Bates, Richard Branson, Macy Gray