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The Rhythm Section

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The Rhythm Section

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With Jules Verne’s story turned into a vehicle for Jackie Chan, 2004’s Around the World in 80 Days has a strange blood line. The extra features on Disney’s DVD prove that Around the World takes more after its big budget than its literary roots.

The Movie

The sidekick is the lead and vice-versa
The sidekick is the lead and vice-versa
Big DVD package doesn't help the movie at all
Big DVD package doesn’t help the movie at all

Those familiar with Jules Verne’s book or the movie from 1956 will recognize the basic story and the fanciful tone in this film. But in order to accommodate Jackie Chan, the plot has been dented, squeezed, and contorted, then welded to the standard Jackie Chan plot, namely, the return of stolen Chinese artifacts.

Chan’s sidekick character gets top billing. He has re-stolen The Jade Buddha from the Bank of England, after it was stolen from his village in China. On the lam in London, he finds a cover story working for the inventor Phileas Fogg (Steve Coogan).

Fogg is a junior member of the Royal Academy of Science. The senior members don’t like him. So when Fogg starts pontificating about being able to circle the globe in 80 days, Lord Kelvin (Jim Broadbent) makes him a bet.

There aren’t any jaw-dropping stunts in this movie, but Chan’s fight choreography is still better than what most movies offer. Steve Coogan, in his first big-budget lead, is not as refined or classy as David Niven, but he’s every bit as British. He’s as good a foil for Jackie Chan as Chris Tucker or Owen Wilson (who has a cameo).

Like the ‘56 film, Around the World in 80 Days is packed with cameo appearances. But while these may give a little thrill of recognition, they don’t really add much to the movie. In fact, there really isn’t much to this mess of a movie at all. The love story is tacked-on, and the lessons about friendship and doing what you believe ring completely hollow. They exist only as a sort of evolutionary vestige like an appendix, included not for any purpose but because it’s easier to include them than to throw them away.

In the end, Around the World in 80 Days is very lightweight entertainment. It is fluff. There are laughs to be had, and it’s not a complete waste of two hours, but that’s all that can be said in its favor.

DVD Extras

Around the World is packed with extra features, no doubt for the “family-friendly” holiday gift-giving season. The deleted scenes reveal tasteless jokes about farts and nipples that, thankfully, didn’t make the final cut. Oh, and the obscure Rob Schneider in-joke reference to The Waterboy was also cut. Go figure.

There is an alternate beginning, an animated dream sequence involving a pajamaed talking chicken that Coraci said was a “theme” in his original vision for this film.

“Discovering Around the World” is a segment with interviews with the director, cast, and crew (none of whom are identified on-screen). It’s all phony, self-congratulatory B.S. I might have been more forgiving if some unidentified woman (one of the producers?) hadn’t said that audiences had never seen this side of Jackie Chan — his Keaton- and Chaplin-like comedic qualities. The DVD also fails to mention what planet she’s from, but apparently their video stores don’t have Martial Arts or New Releases.

A feature on Jackie Chan shows his substantial contribution to this film, not just in front of the camera, but on the script as well. If Chan has taken any flack for a perceived decline in the quality of his movies, this feature shows that he may have himself to blame.

The audio commentary features Frank Coraci and Steve Coogan. Coraci opens by saying he never wanted to do a director’s commentary, although he’s liked hearing them on other DVDs. Coogan starts with a dry, self-deprecating joke, saying he loves to talk. But these two promises of a better-than-average commentary are broken rather quickly by the usual awkward pauses and obvious statements that add very little to the enjoyment or appreciation of the movie.

Picture and Sound

The film’s big budget practically guarantees that picture and sound quality will be high. That indeed is the case. The movie may be over-scored, but the DVD delivers big sound, encoded in Dolby Digital 5.1. Picture quality is, as expected, pristine.