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Jumper   D+

20th Century Fox / Regency Enterprises

Year Released: 2008
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Director: Doug Liman
Writers: David S. Goyer, Jim Uhls, Simon Kinberg (based on the novel by Steven Gould)
Cast: Hayden Christensen, Jamie Bell, Samuel L. Jackson, Rachel Bilson, Diane Lane, Michael Rooker, AnnaSophia Robb, Max Thierot.

Review by Rob Vaux

Jumper is a movie of marvelous little moments framing giant dumb contrivances. It has a cool concept stuck fatally in neutral, papered over by slick effects and gee-whiz details that can't hide the serious questions it raises in even the dullest audience member. Beautiful, tantalizing sequences spring up where it genuinely tries to break the sci-fi action mold, only to snuff them out beneath plain old-fashioned event-movie idiocy. An effort to address the staggering gaps in logic and a more airtight grasp on its mythology and lexicon would have made all the difference in the world. Instead, it peppers us with a series of extended trailers, flashy choreography, and empty banter in a desperate effort to distract us long enough for the final credits to roll.

The central concept shows promise, though it borrows a lot from Bryan Singer's X-Men films and similar four-color drollery. Its protagonists are jumpers -- born with the ability to teleport anywhere in the world they want. Director Doug Liman hits his best notes when expounding upon those possibilities, both obvious (you can jump into a bank vault and remove all the cash) and subtle (why walk across a room to the fridge when you can just teleport there?). He also scores points for making his central character something of a dick. Young David Rice (Hayden Christensen) ran away from a broken home when his powers manifested and now lives a life of travel and leisure unburdened by any consequences. He sees no obligation to use his gifts for the greater good and almost seems offended that his life should involve anything other than instant self-gratification.

That's when Samuel L. Jackson's Roland shows up, a member of some shadowy government organization who hunts down and kills jumpers like David. And then the film's real troubles begin... not so much with Jackson, who stays true to bad-ass form as always, but with the thorny questions his character raises. Jumper attaches a bare-bones background to Roland and his fellow "Paladins," but the reasons for their activity remain muddled rather than intriguing and the notion that their "war" with the jumpers has gone on for centuries doesn't hold water. They exist because the movie needs bad guys, and these rank among the more perfunctory and aimless you're likely to find.

Roland also heralds issues of motivation and pacing for the film, turning its wafer-thin story into an exercise in non-sequiturs. Pretend for the sake of argument that you come home to find Sam Jackson waiting for you. He knocks you through the wall, jabs a cattle prod up your ass, and implies in none-too-subtle terms that he's going to bleed you out like as stuck pig before you barely enact an escape. Where I come from, we refer to this as a "problem." Where I come from, we'd clear some time in our schedule to deal with it, because Sam Jackson is a very scary man and he might come back. But the very next scene, David pops in on his old high-school crush Millie (Rachel Bilson), mumbling some horse flop about working in banking and sweeping her off to a weekend in Rome.

Further developments arise in similarly jarring fashion, including another jumper (Jamie Bell stealing scene after scene) and a tacked-on subplot about David's missing mother (Diane Lane) that provides Jumper's clunky denouement. They hang together by the shakiest of threads, prompting all kinds of awkward questions that the movie clearly has no interest in answering. David's character, too, never makes up his mind just who or what he is. Does he learn from his experiences? Is he an amoral antihero? A wounded soul looking for healing? Or just another bully with an inflated sense of entitlement? Jumper flits from one notion to the other, never settling on any consistency and thus keeping us from connecting with him in any way. Christensen does what he can, but his performance remains true to Anakin Skywalker form: great when expressing petulance, entitlement, or searing rage (the eyes, people! How can you doubt the Scary behind those dead soulless eyes?!), but an embarrassingly cold fish when romancing Millie or trying to get us to feel for his plight.

With the film's structure approaching collapse, Liman turns to the little things to save it, and here at least, Jumper has some real fun. The director's knack for action scenes finds some modestly neat outlets (like a fistfight taking place over a dozen time zones) and surprises us just often enough to keep our attention occupied. Bell benefits from most of it, as his more experienced jumper demonstrates some of the clever ways to exploit teleportation. But even at a slim 88-minute running time, it makes for pretty thin soup: holding off complete failure by the barest of all possible margins before squandering its goodwill on more thoughtless noise and jarring plot holes. Fox must be pleased with the weekend's showings and they clearly hope for an extended franchise here. That gives them more chances to get it right and deliver Jumper's core notion the way it should be seen. Based on this first entry, however, you'll pardon me if I don't hold my breath.

Review published 02.21.2007.

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