The Out-of-Towners


In Jules Verne’s adventure novel, Phileas Fogg, a near-autistically fastidious London gentleman of independent means, tries to circumnavigate the globe in no more than 80 days on a whist-table wager, one he accepts as casually as he might consent to a top-up of Earl Grey. Serialized in 1872 and 1873, Verne’s Around the World in Eighty Days appeared in the decade of the first phonograph, first lightbulb, and first mass-produced typewriter; in Disney’s costly new rendition, Fogg (Steve Coogan) is no longer a heavy-lidded, idle-rich signifier of British imperialism but a wild-eyed, roller-skating inventor who rattles around a ramshackle house scaffolded with windmills and heaving pumps like something out of Brazil. Fogg is also a class striver—specifically, he wants a clear path up the steps of the Royal Academy of Science, headed up by complacent snob Lord Kelvin (the redoubtable Jim Broadbent).

This punch-drunk, committee-driven adaptation directed by Frank Coraci introduces Fogg attempting to break the 50-mph human speed barrier by buckling his elderly valet into a creaky roller-coaster contraption, but the protracted groaning and screeching of both man and machine add up to a numbingly accurate indicator of the movie to come. Luckily, the racket attracts the improvised services of Lau Xing (Jackie Chan), on the run from the local constables, a Chinese warlord, and her omnipresent gang of chop-socky lackeys after he nicked a priceless Buddha icon from the Bank of England vaults. Posing as French aide-de-camp Passepartout (incidentally ID’ed in Verne’s book as an “ex-gymnast”), he and aspiring-artist tagalong Monique (Cécile de France) can hitch a ride with Fogg and eventually return the Buddha to Lau Xing’s village back in China.

Like Fogg, Lau Xing is a can-do innovator: a skirmish at an impressionist exhibition finds the scrappy chap accidentally pioneering an ancestral form of action painting. But oddly for a picture aimed at family audiences, Around the World grasps for laughs by inflicting pain: It tosses hapless Inspector Fix (Ewen Bremner) from trains, flings him from windows, and pours boiling water on his genitals, and an elderly lady’s potentially lethal pratfall from a fence earns a sadistic close-up of her twitching face. As the tourist on a time budget, the usually brilliant Coogan merely mugs and flails (we can only imagine what Johnny Depp would have done with Fogg), while he and able straight man Chan enjoy scant opportunity to develop any comic rapport, notwithstanding a brief bathtub bonding session that awakens fond memories of Shanghai Noon. Though the new Around the World strains to match the 1956 David Niven edition for surprise cameos, you may already know that the governor of California pops up, and happily, the inevitable royal appointment is an astutely cast delight.

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