The absolutely scariest scene in Around the World in 80 Days features Arnold Schwarzenegger. As voluble Prince Hapi, he’s plopped down in a palace surrounded by beauties and servants, apparently bronzed so as to look Turkish, with veins a-bulging and black frizzy-fright wig sticking out on all sides of his crown. Among his most precious possessions are a hot tub and a statue by one A. Rodin—Arnold’s own body posed naked, with chin in hand, as if he’s… what do you call it?... thinking.
Stumbling onto this tableau are the film’s three primary travelers, eccentric London-based inventor Phileas Fogg (Steve Coogan), his Chinese “valet” Passepartout (Jackie Chan), and a tagalong aspiring Impressionist artiste named Monique (Cécile De France), whom they have recently sort of rescued from a career as a hat check girl in Paris. Her eye batting encourages Hapi to deem her wife number seven. And her awesomely bad painting of a man flying through blue sky and white clouds so moved Phileas that he is developing a bit of a crush on Mademoiselle, though he’d never let on, because he’s focused on his mission—to get around the world, and thus win a bet with Lord Kelvin (Jim Broadbent), who has promised him the position of head of the Royal Academy of Science if he makes it to the top of the Academy steps in the appointed time.
All this backstory, of course, is drawn from Jules Verne’s famous novel, also the source for Michael Anderson’s star-studded, Best Picture Oscar-winner of 1956. That the $110 million Disney version is embarrassing in every way, from Schwarzenegger’s alarming turn to Coogan’s painful debasement (this the man who played club owner Tony Wilson to perfection in 24 Hour Party People), to Jackie Chan’s continued downward spiral as he pursues period-road-movie stardom (or whatever it is he’s after). Even if his Old West buddy franchise with Owen Wilson (who pops up for a minute with brother Luke, as the Wright Brothers, whom the travelers meet in the States) provides Chan with steady income, they hardly seem a worthy endpoint for anyone’s career or movie plot.
Just so, the travelers’ episodic exploits, much as they have seemed fantastic decades back, now look formulaic, including the cutesy approximate-time celebrity appearances (Toulouse Lautrec, the under-construction Statue of Liberty). They’re chased by an incompetent British agent (Ewen Bremner), they meet a homeless man (Rob Schneider), they’re locked up, they fight amongst themselves. They hop a hot air balloon, the Orient Express, a car and a ship, before they give up and just build a damn flying machine to cross the last of the Atlantic.
Worse, much worse, they encounter a series of lazy and offensive stereotypes: if Arnold’s groping after Monique isn’t bad enough, they run into stuffy Brits, lascivious French (and one mother, played by Macy Gray, who is so bleary-eyed and out of it, she doesn’t wake when her apartment is on fire, such that Passepartout must swoop in the window to save her and her adorable baby), nefarious martial arts assassins, simple Indian villagers, and a Chinese Dragon Lady named General Fang (Karen Joy Morris) has tediously daunting fingernails.
She’s part of the Jackie Chan plot that vaguely intersects with the Around the World plot (that is, the plot lifted from Shanghai Noon), in which Passepartout, whose real name is Lau Xing, must return a jade Buddha to his Chinese village. Stolen by Fang and her minions, said Buddha was housed in the London, where Lau Xing stole it back; he lies outright to Phileas in order to get the ticket home. Once they do arrive in the village, they face down a phalanx of well-trained, deadly assailants, though Lau Xing has a few tricks of his own up his sleeve, including a brief appearance by Sammo Hung, welcome surely, but not nearly smart or well-choreographed enough to save this protracted, dreary day.