If you have no problem following an action scene filmed with jittery handheld cameras and chopped into millisecond-long blurs in the editing room, maybe it’s time to watch an action scene that fits that description and follows the film’s characters as they teleport from Egypt to Tokyo to Chechnya and back, locked in mortal combat. Setting a whole fight in one location is so last year.
The action sequences in Doug Liman’s sci-fi thriller Jumper could set new standards for speed. But, unlike the director’s far superior fast-paced flicks Go and The Bourne Identity, this one makes it hard to care. Jumper feels like a film put together by committees and focus groups. In the screenplay by David S. Goyer, Jim Uhls and Simon Kinberg, very little remains of Steven Gould’s 1992 YA novel about a motherless abused teen who learns he has the miraculous power to teleport (“jump”) himself to any location he can visualize. The novel’s resonant wish-fulfillment fantasy — a kid who yearns to escape succeeds beyond his wildest dreams — gives way to the film’s much shallower one. And, thanks to studio execs who reportedly nixed Liman’s choice of an unknown for the lead role, protagonist David Rice is played by Hayden Christensen, who manages to make him someone you wouldn’t want to spend 15 minutes with, let alone 88.
Maybe it’s not Christensen’s fault. Maybe it was George Lucas who somehow convinced him, during the filming of the Star Wars prequels, that he should play a complex anti-hero by staring straight ahead and speaking in a faintly sinister, operatic baritone. Whatever the reason, he lacks the one quality that could have redeemed his character: playfulness.
The film’s David is a not-particularly-abused kid (we get faint hints that his dad is a bully) who discovers his superpower at an opportune moment and jumps straight out of Ann Arbor and into a Manhattan lifestyle worthy of MTV’s “Cribs.” Well, along the way he robs a bank by teleporting into the vault. From there on, everything is just ducky: One minute he’s hooking up with a hottie in London; the next he’s catching a wave in Fiji or breakfasting on top of the Sphinx. It takes Samuel L. Jackson, as the badass leader of an age-old group of self-appointed Jumper-exterminators called Paladins, to make Christensen focus on something besides self-gratification. Pursued by the old Jedi — er, Paladin — he reconnects with his childhood crush (Rachel Bilson) and discovers he’s not the only Jumper out there.
There’s a sly little satire of superhero movies hidden in this scenario. Unlike Spiderman, Superman, Batman, et al., David has no mentors and really doesn’t care if great power should carry great responsibility. In one scene, our hero watches news coverage of a flood — “Only a miracle could save these people now!” — with a look of bemused boredom on his face. Why should he teleport out to the trouble spot when there’s so much on TV? It’s not hard to believe that the average teen, endowed with superpowers, would act pretty much like this.
All the same, the setup demands some kind of coming of age. It never happens. While Christensen continues to stare and recite his lines diligently, Jamie Bell (Billy Elliot) steals what’s left of the show as the other Jumper, Griffin, who’s full of anger and roguish energy. His hatred of the Paladins might generate a juicy conflict if we knew anything about Paladins beyond the fact that they believe “only God should be in all places at all times.” With no more depth than this, the film becomes a showdown between a bunch of murderous religious nutjobs and two young hedonists who are mainly interested in self-preservation and cool cars. Like The Golden Compass, Jumper ends abruptly, with the door gaping open for a sequel. But if that doesn’t work out, it should do just fine as a video game.