Let me get this straight. Disney is breaking up with Pixar, which handed them the amazingly lucrative “Toy Story” franchise. Disney is on the outs with Miramax, which always lends a touch of prestige to the Disney name at Oscar time.
Yet the company is choosing to release a slapdash Jackie Chan remake of “Around the World in 80 Days” that seems unlikely to please either Chan fans or baby boomers who have fond memories of the 1956 original. Maybe this makes economic sense — Chan has a worldwide following, and so does the Jules Verne novel that inspired both films — but something doesn’t quite connect here.
In order to turn the story into a Chan vehicle, with lots of chopsocky slapstick and strained in-jokes, the filmmakers have been forced to twist the story so drastically that it threatens to snap. They’ve also telescoped the tale to keep it under two hours (this is easily the shortest version of “Around the World”); almost inevitably, there are major lapses in narrative logic.
It often seems that the only elements holding the mess together are Steve Coogan’s engagingly spunky performance as Phileas Fogg, a natty Brit who makes a bet that he can circle the globe in 80 days, and the magical animated montages that take us from late-19th-century London to Paris to the Great Wall of China to San Francisco. The director, Frank Coraci (best-known for his Adam Sandler vehicles, “The Waterboy” and “The Wedding Singer”), relies heavily on them to keep the story geographically coherent.
Chan plays Fogg’s valet, Passepartout, who is supposed to be French. No matter how often the scriptwriters try to justify Chan’s casting in the role, it doesn’t make a lick of sense. Equally strained are the changes made to Fogg’s love interest, a French girl who wants to become an impressionist painter (Cecile de France), and the bumbling detective who follows them on their trip.
Completely new to this version are Arnold Schwarzenegger as a grotesquely narcissistic Turkish prince who is looking for a seventh wife; Kathy Bates as Queen Victoria, who bets on Fogg to win; Luke and Owen Wilson as the Wright brothers (who seem too laidback to accomplish anything momentous); Rob Schneider as a California vagrant with a unique approach to begging; and a tiresome subplot about the theft of a jade Buddha.
Mike Todd’s 1956 version of “Around the World,” which revitalized David Niven’s career and made an international star of Mexico’s Cantinflas, is one of the few best-picture Oscar winners to be remade. Especially notable was a 1989 made-for-TV version, with Pierce Brosnan and Eric Idle perfectly cast as Fogg and Passepartout, and the late Peter Ustinov as the detective who stalks them.
Despite Coogan’s game stab at playing Fogg, and Jim Broadbent’s amusing turn as the willfully ignorant Lord Kelvin, who mocks Fogg’s inventions as well as a host of quaint new theories including evolution, this treatment of Verne’s story leaves no lasting impression. The best that can be said of it is that it’s not an unpleasant experience.
© 2013 msnbc.com Reprints