By my count, the total number of countries visited in "Around the World in 80 Days" comes to six, which is something less than your average Carnival Cruise. To be fair, "Around the World in 80 Days" doesn't have Kathie Lee Gifford. But only because the producers probably couldn't afford her.
For a planet-spanning action/adventure epic, "80 Days" is a pretty good Jackie Chan movie -- although it helps if you can blank out the scenes in which Arnold Schwarzenegger in a fright wig plays a lusty Turkish prince. Executive-produced by the ageless kung fu/comedy dynamo and directed by Frank Coraci ("The Wedding Singer"), it's a peppy, fast-moving, wafer-thin amusement that's fine for kids if you don't mind a lot of Three Stooges-style martial arts. For grown-ups, it's the equivalent of a 59-cent tin globe.
The last time Jules Verne's 1872 fantasy novel was turned into a movie, it won the 1956 best picture Oscar, even if that film is remembered now as a case of quantity winning out over quality. Showman-producer Mike Todd spared no expense and stuffed the cast with winking star cameos: Frank Sinatra as a saloon pianist, Buster Keaton as a train conductor, Peter Lorre as a Japanese waiter, and so on.
The new version . . . spares expense. As the British inventor Phileas Fogg (Steve Coogan of "24 Hour Party People") and his crafty valet Passepartout (Chan) dash around the world on a bet, they run into such luminaries as Virgin Airlines CEO Richard Branson! John Cleese as a British bobby! Singer Macy Gray as a sleeping woman! Director Coraci can't even rely on his status as Friend of Adam Sandler to prevail on the "Waterboy" star to show up -- the best we get is Rob Schneider as a smelly bum.
On the upside, when Fogg and Passepartout encounter Wilbur and Orville Wright, we're treated to Owen and Luke Wilson dithering as only brothers can. Never mind that the scene takes place in the American desert when, to my knowledge, the Wrights never made it across the Rockies. Chan's the man, after all, who gave us a "Rumble in the Bronx" with snowcapped mountains somewhere off in Westchester.
The plot gets going when Lau Xing (Chan) steals a valuable jade Buddha from the British Museum with the hopes of returning it to his home village. Meanwhile, scatterbrained Fogg has made a bet with the harrumphing Lord Kelvin (Jim Broadbent) of the Royal Academy of Science that he can't circumnavigate the globe in under 80 days. Lau Xing needs a lift home, and so passes himself off as Passepartout, butler extraordinaire.
In Paris, the two pick up Monique (Cecile de France), a perky would-be Impressionist painter and love interest for Fogg. But just when you're thinking she's an improvement over Shirley MacLaine's Arab princess in the 1956 version, here comes the sitting Governor of California in his last and surely least role before getting elected. This "80 Days" sidesteps the smirking racism of the original except for those 10 minutes when Schwarzenegger is onscreen as a royal Muslim muscleman; it's a painfully clueless bit of brownface that would set back Hollywood-Arab relations if there were any.
Coogan, normally a brisk and witty actor, breezes through on pleasant autopilot, and "80 Days" feels most at home when it settles down in the Chinese village and lets Chan do his comedy-action thing against the legions of dragon-lady General Fang (Karen Joy Morris, known to Asian audiences as Karen Mok). The star has done it before and better, but even the old kung fu ladder gag still gets a laugh. "Around the World in 80 Days" goes by train, ship, hot air balloon, and flying machine, but it becomes airborne only when Chan does.
Ty Burr can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Around the World in 80 Days
Directed by: Frank Coraci
Written by: David Titcher,David Benullo, and David Goldstein
Starring: Jackie Chan, Steve Coogan, Cecile de France, Jim Broadbent, Arnold Schwarzenegger
At: Boston Common, Fenway, suburbs
Running time: 125 minutes
Rated: PG (action violence, crude humor,mild language)