The premise for Jumper seems like adolescent wish fulfillment. Who wouldn’t want the ability to instantly get away? Plus, being able to instantly vanish would unleash an inner Lothario in some men, causing them to love the ladies one night and leave them high and dry the next morning. Having the ability to be anywhere at a moment’s notice is quite a powerful gift but could it lead to tremendous vanity? Director Doug Liman doesn’t seem too interested in all the interesting possibilities afford by teleporting teenagers and instead unleashes what feels like an empty prequel to a hopeful sci-fi franchise.
David (Hayden Christensen) is a shy kid at school when he discovers one day that he has the ability to instantly transport himself to another location simply through the power of his mind. David uses this teleporting ability to, naturally, rob banks and build a cushy lifestyle for himself. He can snack on top of the Sphinx’s head, surf along Australian waves, hang off the clock face of Big Ben, and best of all, he never needs to reach for the TV remote again (seriously, David teleports from one couch cushion to another just to snag the not-too-distant remote). David is a jumper and he discovers he is not alone. Griffin (Jamie Bell, the true star of the movie) has the ability as well and enlightens David on the perils of the jumper lifestyle. Paladins have been hunting and killing jumpers for hundreds of years. The Paladins carry staffs that shoot electrified tethers out, hoping to wrap up the jumpers. The electric bolts stop the jumper from being able to concentrate and escape. Roland (Samuel L. Jackson), a head Paladin, explains that “only God should be able to be all places at all times.”
Complicating matters is that David has reconnected with his high school crush Millie (Rachel Bilson). He whisks her off to Rome and they break into the Coliseum together like crazy kids do. He’s vague about where he’s been for 8 years and says he can afford such expensive getaways thanks to his “banking” job. But Roland is circling and plans on getting to him by any means, even if poor Millie gets gutted in the process.
Jumper has some flashes of excitement and a halfway decent premise, but this film is completely hollow on the inside. Liman must have been too entranced with his premise to ask for anything substantive from his slew of screenwriters. The movie has a handful of great images and moments that surely make for a crackerjack trailer, however, there is hardly any attention paid to plot or character or even enticing action. There is one good chase scene between two jumpers going through many stops around the globe; one second they’re running on a beach, the next through downtown Tokyo, and another falling off the Empire State building to landing safely inside a community swimming pool. The pace is a little too break-neck for my taste but the sequence is high on imagination and finally plays with the fun possibilities of teleporters otherwise ignored by the film. That’s the highlight of the movie, right there, and yet even it feels mildly derivative of the sequence in Being John Malkovich where Cameron Diaz chases Catherine Keener through the subconscious bowels of John Malkovich’s memory. This is a movie that asks little of its audience because the filmmakers barely scratched the surface with their material. The execution is a wash and the movie feels like a scattered sightseeing tour told by someone high on crystal meth.
The characters are pretty shallow and powerfully bland, and the romance between David and Millie is entirely contrived and unbelievable. In fact, Millie isn’t a character but a plot contrivance. In the beginning she’s established as the caring girl next door for adoration, then flash ahead years later and upon her first reunion with David she has sex with him because, well, I don’t know, because the plot demands some impromptu sex. Then her purpose is to serve as a broken record of morality; a good hour of Millie’s dialogue is reiterations of the lines “What’s wrong?” “Are you okay?” and “What aren’t you telling me?” It gets really annoying and all she does is keep repeating these queries while David drags her by the hand through Rome. It also hurts that Christensen and Bilson have zero chemistry together. But expectantly, Millie’s final purpose is to be the damsel in distress that requires rescuing. Millie’s lax characterization is emblematic of the film as whole. She and the other characters serve a strict, utilitarian purpose to move the plot forward when it’s called for, but the plot isn’t even that good!
The audience is willing to accept the unbelievable as long as it makes some for of logic on its own terms. People have the ability to teleport, got it. But then the movie throws in the Paladins and gives us little explanation. These grey-coated hunters are some religious order or something and have hunted jumpers since the Middle Ages, though their grasp of technology must have improved. I wanted to know more about these hunters, and “religious fundamentalism” seems like a lazy excuse for motivation. Why do these people go to such great ends to kill jumpers? What is their history? Why do they use tazers instead of guns? If a jumper can’t dodge an electric cord then surely they wouldn’t be able to dodge a bullet. How come the jumpers don’t use guns to easily knock off the Paladins? If this is an ongoing war then how come no one else has caught on to the massive collateral damage of the battles? The jumpers leave trace damage to wherever they appear, so how come no one else seems to have caught on? Just like all the other plot elements, the Paladins are established and then ignored by the filmmakers. I kept finding my mind wandering and I created my own intriguing back-story for the Paladins, one where the insurance companies of the world are sick of losing money to the self-serving jumpers, so they subcontract the Paladins to kill these financial fiends. Right there I just spent more time thinking about how to make this movie interesting than the people responsible for making this movie interesting. The corporate avenging angle is more fun than simply making the villains an age-old religious sect like they were plot leftovers from The Da Vinci Code. This movie needed a whole heaping helping of exposition to provide some minute level of clarity to all the flash and noise.
There are so many plot holes and loose storylines that it seems like the filmmakers had the delusional thought that this movie was the first step in a franchise. Because of this belief, we are treated to every single character being left hanging and there is no resolution or sense of finality. The subplot with David’s mother (Diane Lane) is tacked on with promise of addressing it in the future. Jumper doesn’t so much end as put everyone on hold, including the audience.
Liman delivered on his Hollywood potential with 2002’s Bourne Identity and 2005’s Mr. and Mrs. Smith, so Jumper is a pretty crushing letdown for a man with such a great mind for inventive action sequences. Liman is sunk by such a terrible script, but it almost seems like the plot was dictated by Liman’s handful of visual cues he had in his brain. There are some nifty images and a couple of cool moments, but cool moments do not make a 90-minute movie, and Jumper lurches from plot point to plot point with depressing routine. There’s so little imagination with the brief, lackluster action sequences given the sheer possibilities with teleporting.
The acting seems on autopilot. Christensen is too bland for words. I repeat my earlier prediction that Christensen will likely be nothing more than the human equivalent of a vacant, pretty mannequin for his acting career; though I must suggest that everyone see his one piece of acting greatness in 2003’s Shattered Glass. His character in Jumper is pretty much a cipher for the audience to have some vicarious, globe-trotting fun, but David is pretty hard to like and doesn’t give an audience much insight into his character. His monotone delivery buries the cheesy dialogue. And, as a die-hard Ohio State fan, it made it even harder for me to root for an Ann Arbor kid. Bilson is pretty but relies on looks of anxiety and sensuous lip biting to display the depths of her one-note character. Jackson delivers a performance suitably in the Samuel L. Jackson canon of screaming and scowling, this time with a white buzz cut hairdo.
If I were being charitable, I’d say that the absence of a succinct story and sufficient characters is because Jumper feels like the pilot to a franchise. But I’m not being charitable. I expected much better from Doug Liman than 20 minutes of setup and another hour of shiny, flashy diversions with little context. The premise isn’t capitalized at all and for a film about the thrilling possibilities of having the world at your fingertips, this movie sure lacks any sense of whimsy and fun. Jumper tells the audience that it has the power to go anywhere, but all I wanted to do was transport myself into a different theater.
Nate’s Grade: C
Posted on February 4, 2008, in 2008 Movies and tagged action, diane lane, doug liman, hayden christensen, jamie bell, kristen stewart, rachel bilson, samuel l. jackson, sci-fi, supernatural. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.