You might think that with the technological advances in moviemaking since 1956, this new version of Around the World in 80 Days would at least look better than its predecessor did. You could not be faulted for believing you'd be wowed by the Rube Goldberg gadgets of inventor Phileas Fogg -- the whirligigs and whatchamacallits that fill his London home and the contraptions with which he uses human guinea pigs as sacrificial lambs. And surely a studio as desperate for a hit as Walt Disney Pictures would be willing to invest some small fortune in its one best shot at a summer kiddie hit; after few roamed to see Home on the Range, and with Princess Diaries 2 looming on the horizon like a threat, the beleaguered studio needs at least something resembling a success. But expect nothing from this $110-million movie, because that's all it delivers. It arrives in theaters smelling like a carton of milk left for days in the summer sun and is returning scant pennies on each dollar invested. Rarely has the phrase "special effects" felt like such an oxymoron.
To borrow a phrase from Moulin Rouge, whose Jim Broadbent shows up here as the corrupt and shortsighted head of the Royal Academy of Science who bets Fogg he can't complete the titular trip, the new take on Around the World in 80 Days is demented enough to believe itself a spectacular-spectacular of epic globe-trotting proportions. Yet among the several iterations of Jules Verne's novel about the inventor's adventures as he traipses through England, Asia, and the Wild West, this lazy, lackluster take is the least impressive and most depressive.
And do not even think of comparing the 2004 variant with the 1956 film that won Academy Awards for, among other things, Best Picture and Best Adapted Screenplay. That movie, with David Niven as Fogg and Cantinflas as his valet Passepartout, was many things -- overlong, overblown, and overcooked -- but at least it looked opulent and possessed a wry screenplay co-written by S.J. Perelman, who had penned two of the Marx Brothers' Paramount classics. It took three people to write this one, which claims as its director the man who made The Waterboy. Even its cameos are bargain-bin: Where the original boasted Frank Sinatra, Marlene Dietrich, Peter Lorre, and John Carradine, this one has to make do with Rob Schneider, Will Forte (a featured player on Saturday Night Live, no less), Owen and Luke Wilson as the Wright Brothers, and, most distressingly, Arnold Schwarzenegger as a lecherous prince with a dyed-black Carrot Top wig. The whole sordid affair is craptacular-craptacular.
This is barely an adaptation of the Verne novel at all, but a Jackie Chan vehicle shoehorned into hoary material that steals its central plot from, of all things, Shanghai Knights. Everything about this film feels cheap and smells musty: It looks like something filmed on a studio back lot that's been closed for years, where everything that's supposed to weigh a ton has been fabricated from Styrofoam and spray paint, and every brick wall is made of plywood.
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