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Not even Arnold can save '80 Days'

The Baltimore Sun

Jackie Chan movies are known for jaw-dropping stunts and thrilling action. Jules Verne's “Around the World in 80 Days'” is known as literature's most famous travelogue.

Whoever thought these two cinematic templates belonged together?

Heaven knows what the suits at Disney were thinking, for what they ended up with was a bland Jackie Chan movie and a lifeless travelogue. (A site near Berlin stands in for all of Europe, while Thailand fills in for anything Eastern.)

Of course, there’s a worthy question to be asked, as to whether there’s a place for works like “80 Days” in today's high-speed, high-tech reality, where jetting off to all corners of the globe is a regular occurrence for many people, and where television and the Internet have made the world a much smaller place. When an earlier (and Oscar-winning) “80 Days” was released in 1956, half the fun was that it transported audiences to exotic locales. Nowadays, even the most remote regions are just a mouse-click away.

A thought to ponder, certainly, but not one this film sheds any light on; it’s simply too weak an effort to generate anything beyond anxiety over how long it’s going to drag on.

Chan stars as Lau Xing, a thief who steals an ancient Buddha from London’s Bank of England, but with the noblest of intentions — he wants to return it to his native Chinese village, where its powers will somehow make everyone happy and return prosperity to the region. (Wasn't there an Indiana Jones movie with this same plot?) While narrowly avoiding the police (in a Keystone Cops-style chase that's neither funny nor frenetic), he finds himself in the back yard of inventor Phileas Fogg (Steve Coogan), who, as fate would have it, is in the market for a new manservant.

Lau gladly fills the bill, convincing the addled Fogg that he’s French. (The film has fun with his struggles to affect a French accent.)

Later, when on a dare, Fogg agrees to try to circumnavigate the globe in only 80 days — which would have been pretty quick in the late 1800s — it’s Chan's character, now known as Passepartout (a play on the word passport), who finds himself at the mercy of his boss' outlandish inventions and get-there-quick schemes.

At their first stop, in Paris, the duo picks up a romantic interest — a spitfire coat-check girl and would-be artist (Belgian actress Cecile De France, whose energy is more irritating than enervating) who wants only to see the world. Then, the trio sets off on the rest of a two-fold mission: return the Buddha to Passepartout's village (without letting Fogg know his valet's true identity, which would ... well, it's hard to figure out what would happen if Fogg knew the truth, but the screenwriters obviously believe it would not be good) and make it back to London within 80 days.

And so, for more than two hours, we are treated to lots of computer-generated imagery, people with thick accents and some kung-fu fighting by Chan, who, at age 50, is not the whirling dervish he once was — it looks like a stunt double was used for at least a few scenes -- but remains endearingly game for anything.

In a nod to the 1956 Michael Todd version, this new “80 Days” uses star cameos to help spice things up. But whereas Todd's film had the likes of Marlene Dietrich and Frank Sinatra turning up unexpectedly, this one depends on people like Macy Gray, Rob Schnieder and Luke and Owen Wilson for its star wattage. There’s even a resoundingly unfunny appearance by California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, as a lecherous Indian prince.

Schwarzenegger’s energies, like those of just about everyone else involved with this movie, would best be spent elsewhere.