Jumper (review)

A Bit of a Leap

Well, that’s how ya do it, I guess: you teleport right past all the boring stuff like character and background. Hey, who needs all that when you can jump a stolen sports car through a dealership window without breaking it — wormholes, you know — and take it on the coolest joyride ever through the crowded streets of Tokyo, one during which you don’t even have to worry about hitting other cars or pedestrians, you can just teleport right through them?

Call it The Fast and the Spurious.
There’s no denying that Jumper features some of the most original and most clever action I’ve ever seen on film, which is exactly what we would expect from director Doug Liman, who seemingly reimagined action as serious business with The Bourne Identity, and action as screwball comedy in Mr. & Mrs. Smith — if someone is gonna do something new with the action movie, it’s gonna be him. And the possibilities here are myriad, and nicely surprising. When a guy can jump himself from one spot to another three feet away without any of that tedious walking involved, it opens up all sorts of possibilities that you probably hadn’t even thought of (I hadn’t): like, how would two guys who could do that fight each other, when they can simply teleport themselves out of the path of flying fist? It’s not like one of those two guys could just jump to, you know, Paris or Antarctica or somewhere to escape, because jumpers can follow one another’s “jump scars” — there’s no running away from another jumper who wants to get you. And when people can move themselves instantaneously to anywhere on the planet without any of that tedious mucking about in airports and eating bags of airline peanuts, the possibilities for adventure certainly seem newly intriguing.

But Jumper — based on a young adult novel by Steven Gould — feels like half a movie. And I don’t mean in that superhero-origin-story way, like this is mere setup for an inevitable sequel (though it’s clear by the end that sequels are greatly hoped for). I mean even as an origin story, it feels pallid and empty and barely even raises questions that should be asked, never mind actually answering even a couple of them. We know next to nothing about young David, except that he’s Hayden Christensen, putting on the same petulant mug he wore throughout the Star Wars movies: I guess we’re meant to take him as brooding and sensitive, but he feels like only the barest sketch of a character. He discovers his ability to teleport in high school, during a moment of life-threatening stress, when he jumps himself from the danger to the stacks of the public library of his Michigan town. Now, it seems to me that that first jump would have to be taking the jumper somewhere that he instinctively feels safe — he’s not actually thinking about removing himself from danger, after all, just acting unconsciously — so, okay, David is the kind of serious, bookish guy who feels safe in a library. Except we never, ever get any kinds of hints that he’s that kind of person at all. We never get any kinds of hints about what kind of person he is, period, beyond his ability to teleport.

And of course I’m guessing about that first jump being instinctive, because there’s no Ben Kenobi around to explain things, even a little, for David or for us. Oh, sure, David eventually meets Griffin, who can teleport too, and Griffin draws him an outline of the world of Jumper as it might have looked like if a little more care had been expended in the writing: nice, innocent Jumpers have been hunted by murderous Paladins for centuries, so there’s a war on. As far as we can tell, though, there are no other jumpers in the world except for these two guys who appear to be almost exactly the same age, and we only get the Paladin perspective from Griffin: it would have been nice to hear from a Paladin himself, particularly since Samuel L. Jackson (1408, Resurrecting the Champ) is playing Roland, the Paladin leader. Who is he? How did he get into this business? Why does he care what jumpers do? It’s too cheap and easy to foist off the war as a religious issue — Jackson gets to scream once or twice about how only God should have godlike powers. I wasn’t looking for a lecture, but at a too-brief 88 minutes, Jumper has plenty of room for a little bit of context.

Thank goodness for Jamie Bell (Flags of Our Fathers, King Kong), who is a marvel of contradictory rage and leave-me-aloneness as Griffin — the film brightens up every time he’s onscreen. I could have gone even without the cool FX of displaced air and exploding potential energy and crackling jump scars if the rest of the movie could have risen to meet the flair he brings.

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