April 17, 1989 12:00 PM

NBC (Sun., April 16, 9 P.M. ET)


Airing over three consecutive nights, this six-hour miniseries seems more like Around the World in 80 Years, not including commercial time. Brosnan stars as the globe-circling Londonite Phileas Fogg in this opulently belabored adaptation of Jules Verne’s classic 1873 novel. In 1956 producer Mike Todd’s hokey wide-screen version of the same story won the Academy Award for Best Picture. Even though that film has failed to stand the test of time, it retains an off-the-wall daffiness that’s missing here, as is anything resembling the sweeping Victor Young musical score. On top of that, Todd had the sense to cast David Niven, who played the stuffy, punctilious Fogg with a proper British eccentricity.

The unpiercing Brosnan’s excitement quotient could put jumping beans in a coma, and 80 Days is an episodic work that demands a strong central character to pull its audience along. Portraying Fogg’s French valet, Jean Passepartout, who accompanies him on his travels via hot-air balloon, steamship, elephant and train, is former Monty Python member Eric Idle. Although Idle does give the slow-paced story some much-needed zip, his grating, Inspector Clouseau-ish accent reduces him to cartoon status. As Princess Aouda, whom Fogg rescues from her husband’s burning funeral pyre in India, Julia (Noble House) Nickson is indeed in a sari position. Shirley MacLaine’s original kooky portrayal of the role is not easily forgotten in any case. But the exotically beautiful Nickson plays Aouda with a somber dullness that matches Brosnan’s. There’s no friction or spark between these diverse traveling companions even as they find themselves falling in love. At least Peter Ustinov, as Detective Fix, who’s in hot pursuit of Fogg, and Robert Morley, as the head of the Bank of England, are on hand to remind us that this is a whimsical satire.

Like Todd’s spectacle, this 80 Days is studded with stars in cameo roles, including Henry Gibson, Jack Klugman, Pernell Roberts, Robert Wagner and Jill St. John. Under Buzz (Brian’s Song) Kulik’s direction, none of these cameo parts, rich with comic potential, have much flavor. Even Queen Victoria, as played by Anna Massey, is thoroughly unamusing. Screenwriter John (Fatal Vision) Gay has taken some creative liberties with Verne’s plot, adding such real-life people as Jesse James, played by Stephen Nichols, and Sarah Bernhardt, who’s done in by an achingly miscast Lee Remick. Gay has also tried to update the story’s sensibilities by having Aouda go into a sociological explanation of the reasons behind an attack on her party’s train by a band of American Indians. Filmed in England, Macao, Hong Kong, Thailand and Yugoslavia, the series boasts locales and costumes that are gorgeous, albeit miniaturized by the small screen. But overall, this 80 Days presents a rather flat view of the world.

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