THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


I have to be honest: I don’t want to write this review. I saw Around the World in 80 Days last night, and all I want to do is forget about it. Forever. But this review has to be written, and so I must think about it now. I will, regrettably, have to think about it again in six months, when I make my annual list of the year’s worst films. Sitting through this picture was agony. It is so excruciatingly awful that by the time Rob Schneider turned up in a cameo, I was audibly groaning.

Steve Coogan stars as Professor Phileas Fogg, an inventor of all kinds of wacky gizmos. He makes a wager with the Lord Kelvin (Jim Broadbent), head of the British Academy of Science, that he can circle the globe in no more than 80 days. If he wins, he takes over as head of the organization. If he loses, he must promise never to invent again. That’s not the real story of the movie, though. Much more prominent is the tale of Fogg’s valet, Passepartout (Jackie Chan), who has broken into the Bank of England to steal a Jade Buddha that was, in turn, stolen from his people. Accompanying Fogg is the fastest way out of England, so he lends a helping hand, as does an aspiring artist named Monique (Cecile De France).

That sound you hear is Jules Verne rolling over in his grave. I’m pretty sure the author never imagined his book would be turned into a pathetic comedy or a Jackie Chan action movie, much less a combination of the two. That’s more or less what we get. The trio hops from country to country, where Passepartout is chased by the Black Scorpion gang who wants to steal the Jade Buddha back. They get away, jump to the next country, and the whole process repeats. I’m a big fan of Jackie Chan, but the action scenes are uninspired. They’re nothing than Chan hasn’t already done time and again.

The director is Frank Coraci, who also made the Adam Sandler movie The Waterboy. He seems to think that bombarding the audience with comedy is the best approach, and so he has apparently instructed everyone to overact and mug at the camera as much as possible. The hamminess of the actors is so over-the-top that it eventually becomes surreal. Imagine a movie in which everyone is the Waterboy and you will begin to understand. It got to their point where I just wanted to scream. The style of humor – with its forced high jinks and pathetic attempts at farce – is so aggressively outrageous that it ultimately becomes abusive to the audience. More than anything, this is what I hated so much about Around the World in 80 Days. You just walk away feeling like you’ve been beaten.

A number of famous faces make cameos, including Rob Schneider, Kathy Bates, and Owen and Luke Wilson (who are amusing as the Wright Brothers). Then there’s Arnold Schwarzenegger, who cameos as a Turkish prince. The actor seems to be satirizing his own rumored reputation as a skirt-chaser. Maybe it would have worked had it been at all funny. Again, there’s no subtlety to the humor; everybody camps it up to the highest degree. The cameos come off as desperate.

There was only one thing I liked about Around the World in 80 Days: Steve Coogan. The actor, who was so good in Michael Winterbottom’s underrated 24 Hour Party People manages to show at least a little of that classic British restraint. He holds back on the overacting and mugging as much as possible, and as a result he comes off pretty well. At least, well enough to deserve a movie a lot better than this one.

I suppose the obvious joke would be to say that Around the World in 80 Days feels like it runs for eighty days. That’s not exactly true, of course, although the temptation is there to make the claim. What I can say with honesty is that after a certain point I started looking at my watch every five minutes and wondering when it was going to end. When it finally did – after 125 long minutes – I again let out an audible groan, followed by a sigh of relief. Then, to add insult to injury, the end credits feature the Baha Men (ugh!) doing their rendition of (aargh!) “It’s a Small World After All.” It may not be the most professional way to put it, but this movie sucks.

( out of four)

Around the World in 80 Days is rated PG for action violence, some crude humor and mild language. The running time is 2 hours and 5 minutes.

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