A film review by Craig J. Koban

JUMPER j
½ 

2008, PG-13, 88 mins.

David: Hayden Christensen / Griffin: Jamie Bell / Millie: Rachel Bison / Mary: Diane Lane / Roland : Samuel L. Jackson / William: Michael Rooker

Directed by Doug Liman / Screenplay by David S. Goyer, Jim Uhls and Simon Kinberg, based on the novel by Steven Gould.

It has been reported that the studio behind the new sci-fi auctioneer JUMPER hopes for the film to be the springboard for a trilogy.  The film itself is only loosely based on the 1992 science fiction novel of the same name by Steven Gould, but 20th Century Fox felt that its premise alone – that of special humans that are able to instantaneously teleport themselves anywhere on the planet - is enough to be the foundation for a series of films.  

After watching JUMPER this plan for a trilogy seems painfully apparent and obvious: I have never seen a film race towards its end credits with such a forcefulness.  JUMPER seems like one big rush job towards Part Two. 

JUMPER is proof positive that a nifty and inventive premise is not enough alone to sustain a film.  There are films that I like to label as being characterized as having a  P.W.P, or a “premise without payoff."  Certainly, the underlining concept of JUMPER is intriguing, but the film never allows for it to germinate into a story that we care about in any way.  Much like the characters in the film that are able to beam themselves effortless to any time without minimal effort and fuss, JUMPER is so too impatient to tell a story with a solid beginning, middle, and an end.  Instead, we get a very brief introduction and some scant exposition, which subsequently hurtles towards a title card that says “To Be Continued.”  Okay, that title card does not exist in the film, but it should have.  JUMPER seems to care very little about character development, relationships, or plot.  Story threads are quickly developed and abandoned, characters drop in and then disappear, and so forth.  At a very sparse 88 minutes, the film feels like one big teaser trailer for something better.   

This is too bad, because there is some decent talent on board here.  Director Doug Liman has certainly made some decent films (his indie cult sensation SWINGERS is still one of my favorite comedies and he also made the very good opening installment to the great Jason Bourne Trilogy, THE BOURNE IDENTITY) and the script was co-writing by David S. Goyer, who was instrumental in writing BATMAN BEGINS, the best film about the Caped Crusader and one of the finest comic book hero films ever made.  Considering those two names I was expecting at least some focus and discipline with the material.  What’s truly surprising is how JUMPER is such a hurried and weakly cobbled together sci-fi entertainment.  If they sincerely hope to make two more films out of this (which seems dubious, at best), then they have an awful lot of work to do. 

Thankfully, the film never takes great pains to explain how certain people develop their unique abilities to transport themselves.  We are quickly introduced to a lonely teenager named David Rice (Max Thieriot) who lives with his abusive and alcoholic father (Michael Rooker, who can play abusive and alcoholic fathers in his sleep).  He had a mother, Mary (played all-to-briefly by Diane Lane), who abandoned the family when David was 5-years-old.  David is a loner at school, but he has a crush on a cute girl named Millie (AnnaSophia Robb, who was so good in last year’s BRIDGE TO TERABITHIA).  At one point a school bully plays a cruel prank that eventually leads David to a frozen riverbed.  He then falls through the ice and everyone presumes him to be dead.  But…he does not die; he discovers – to his astonishment – that he has somehow teleported himself to a local school library. 

Eat your heart out, Scotty!

The film then establishes a few particulars about David’s gifts: He can teleport to anywhere on earth that he either (a) has visited or (b) can see in a photograph.  With his newfound powers, David decides to ditch his loser dad and runs away to New York.  Soon, he realizes that he needs money.  No problem: He zaps himself into a bank and robs it from the inside, leaving no sign of forced entry or any other clues.  Funny, but the bank vaults in this movie have no cameras on the inside.  Go figure.

David does this for years and then the film “teleports” us several years forward where we see David in his mid-twenties (played by Hayden Christensen) and he now lives a life of luxury and style.  The film does make a really bad stylistic choice by having two actors play the same character only a few short years apart (David is shown in his late teens and early twenties, yet Thieriot and Christensen look absolutely nothing alike; why Christensen could not play himself younger is beyond me).  The same could also be said for Millie, who is played as a 8-year-older adult by Rachel Bilson, who too looks absolutely nothing like Robb. 

Of course, David manages to reacquaint himself with his old high school flame, who now works at a local bar.  What’s shocking is how little she manages to show surprise about David’s hasty appearance, not to mention that everyone thinks he has been dead for years (although one little clue is left for Millie years earlier to the contrary).  Also startling is how quickly Millie is able to trust David, a man that has a shadowy past and an even murkier lifestyle.  Of course, she asks legitimate questions, like how David became so wealthy while being so isolated from public life.  Oh, but “he’s in banking” as he tells her often (no kidding!).  Nevertheless, Millie becomes reacquainted with David and the two take a trip to Rome and visit the Coliseum.  He stunning naiveté is one of JUMPER's biggest leaps of faith, no pun intended.

What she does not know is that David is a marked and hunted man.  Hot on his heels is the mysterious and icy demeanored Roland Cox (Samuel L. Jackson, looking ridiculous with his liquid paper-white hair and doing what he can with an equally inane role), who is a member of a shadowy organization of “paladins” who have made it their centuries-old quest to find and kill all “jumpers.”  Their rationale is never fully explored, nor their hatred for jumpers, other than the fact that they state, time and time again, that jumpers are "abominations" and do things that only God should be able to do (that is: to be in all places).  This philosophy is largely hypocritical, seeing as Cox and his fellow paladins have a machine that can track jumpers after they jump and creates wormholes that can allow them to also jump to the place where jumpers went.  Hmmmm...okay...so are paladins also abominations because they too do what only God should be able to do?  Who said religious fundamentalism was consistent? 

The film then engages in a series of hastily manufactured action sequences between the paladins and jumpers, and along the way David teams himself up with another jumper named Griffin (Jamie Bell, very decent here in a role that does not get much time to develop fully).  The special effects are competent and proficient and a few of the action scenes are somewhat ingenious, as is the case where David and Griffin get into a heated fist fight that manages to teleport them to all corners of the world in-between punches.  There is also a clever moment when Griffin commandeers a double-decker bus and attempts to teleport-crash it into Roland (it appears that jumpers can also transport objects, providing they are moving; one jumper, it was revealed, attempted to teleport a building, with icky results). 

Yet, most of the time you kind of leave yourself asking questions, like how in the world does no one appear to take notice that jumpers are…well…jumping?  David and Griffin do so much out in the open that it’s a miracle that their exploits are never captured on a cell phone camera and played back on the news.  There is one montage where they steal a car and then - to beat traffic - teleport themselves through (think about the astonished level of road rage!).  Also, the film never once capitalizes or deals with the sheer enormity of David and Griffin’s gifts.  Moreover, the film never has a clue as to whom we should be rooting for.  David is by no means a “hero”: he lies, cheats, and is a disreputable thief (how Millie manages to still stick with this guy when common sense should tell her not to is beyond me) and Roland and his posse – despite being religious fanatics – may have legitimate beefs with jumpers.  What’s stopping a crazy one from, say, zapping into a commercial airliner and crashing it to the ground? 

Christensen is an interesting actor, but with his sullen and often creepy edge I think that he would be better suited playing detached antagonists than heroes.  He has also gotten a bad rap as a performer:  He is adequate in JUMPER, but if one looks harder you can see him giving Oscar-caliber performances in LIFE AS A HOUSE and SHATTERED GLASS and he was respectable playing a Bob Dylan clone in FACTORY GIRL.  And – whether you like it or not – he thanklessly played Anakin Skywalker in the STAR WARS prequels, arguably the most emotionally complex persona in the entire six film saga.  I like Christensen’s dour bravado and sort of jittery, nervous charisma and strength, but he is simply a good actor saddled with bad material in JUMPER. 

Then there are actors like Samuel L. Jackson, who can now be considered the James Brown of actors.  When allowed to be great (like in BLACK SNAKE MOAN, one of 2007’s best films) he is one of our finest actors.  When he allows himself to be in forgettable dribble, like xXx 1 and 2, THE MAN, FORMULA 51 and, yes, JUMPER, he is ripe for ridicule.  Roland is such a cardboard cutout as a villain and is played by Jackson on autopilot.  The same could be said of the terribly underdeveloped subplot involving Diane Lane as David’s mother, who essentially is nothing more than a glorified and forgettable cameo.  A would-be major plot twist and revelation involving her is as preordained and predictable as they get.

JUMPER is a film with such a limitlessly promising and engaging premise that generates very little, if any, excitement or intrigue with its story.  The whole film is one big wasted opportunity: It has a plot and character development that is uninspiring and almost non-existent, its has heroes we care little about and villains that never once inspire or elicit a level of threatening menace (it’s hard to be frightened by the outlandish looking Jackson), and – most fatefully - it has a promise of build up with no payoff whatsoever.  It has been said that some trilogies are like three chapter books.  JUMPER, as stated, hopes to be developed into a trilogy, but instead of this first film feeling like a full fledged Chapter One, it barely comes across with any words on the page. 

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