The Day After Tomorrows and Van Helsings of the world have set the bar so low for mega-budgeted summer extravaganzas that sometimes a blockbuster can set itself apart simply by not sucking. That's the case with Around The World In 80 Days, a ramshackle but agreeable time-waster that reconfigures Jules Verne's 19th-century adventure novel as a Jackie Chan vehicle, with surprisingly enjoyable results.
As is often the case with Chan's American movies, a compatible partner for the international superstar's English-impaired antics is crucial. Having struck out with Claire Forlani (The Medallion) and Jennifer Love Hewitt (The Tuxedo), Chan fares much better with British television personality and indie-film scene-stealer Steve Coogan, an unexpected but inspired choice to play the film's absentminded inventor hero.
Brilliant enough to invent fantastical contraptions but not perceptive enough to realize that his suspiciously overeager new valet (Chan) may be fibbing about his French heritage, Coogan bets scenery-chewing science maven and stuffy blueblood snob Jim Broadbent that Coogan can travel around the world in 80 days. Broadbent—the contemptuous head of the aggregation of jowls and muttonchops that constitutes the Royal Academy Of Science—sends corrupt detective Ewen Bremner to stop Coogan and Chan from reaching their goal, a task further aided by the minions of an evil female Chinese warlord.
After a bumpy opening, Around The World settles into an easygoing rhythm. Part travelogue, part slapstick comedy, and part action extravaganza, the movie benefits from a likable tone and a quaint, refreshing optimism about the possibilities of progress, science, and technology. Coogan seems intent on single-handedly dragging the British Empire into the 20th century, and the film is sunny and boyishly exuberant enough to suggest that that's entirely for the best.
Around The World finds a winning formula: Chan provides the action, various exotic lands serve up props begging to be employed in Chan-style combat, Coogan brings the dry wit, a minor constellation of surprise guest stars provides razzle-dazzle, and a steady stream of mild chuckles helps the whole fandango fly by painlessly.