“Jumper”, the new film directed by Doug Liman (“Swingers”, “Go”, “The Bourne Identity, “Mr. & Mrs. Smith”) will probably be ranked after these films on any list of the director’s work. The film is no classic; it is filled with plot holes about as big as the Sphinx David Rice (Hayden Christensen, Annakin Skywalker in the new “Star Wars Trilogy”) likes to visit. But “Jumper” is fast-paced and even a little fun.
David Rice (Christensen) lives with his emotionally shut-off father after his mother Mary (Diane Lane) left when he was five years old. One day in high school, he realizes he can teletransport; he has fallen into a frozen lake and suddenly appears in the middle of his high school library, very wet, very cold, but very alive. He quickly realizes this is a good skill to have and leaves his father behind for New York City. Arriving in the Big Apple, he tries to develop and control his skill. He needs to learn how to jump where he wants to go. And when. Eight years later, we catch up with David, now played by Christensen, now living in a swanky apartment, complete with a hidden vault filled with cash from many countries. He travels to London and meets a beautiful woman in a pub, not noticing the staring eyes of Griffin (Jamie Bell, “Billy Elliot”). When David wakes up the next morning, he is bored with his new ‘date’, zaps back to New York to pick up his surfboard and heads out to Fiji to find some killer waves. Then, lunch at the Sphinx and back to New York. How does David afford this lifestyle? He robs banks. A mysterious man, Roland (Samuel L. Jackson in white hair) shows up at his New York apartment and zaps David with a fancy stun gun, sending thousands of volts of electricity through the jumper’s body, suspending his ability to escape. David manages to get away and decides it is time to look up his old high school sweetheart, Millie (Rachel Bilson, TV’s “The O.C.”) who had dreams of traveling around the world. He decides to look her up and finds her working in a bar in their hometown. He whisks her away to Rome, and they start to take in the sights. At the Coliseum, David runs into Griffin and learns he is also a jumper, and that Roland is part of a large group, Paladins, who have been hunting Jumpers for centuries. The main purpose of the Paladins is to hunt and kill the Jumpers. At that point, two of Roland’s henchmen show up and try to take David and Griffin in. Naturally, because it proves harder to catch David than he anticipated, Roland turns his attention to Millie.
Amazingly, there is a lot more to this story that I haven’t even touched. How are they able to cram so much story into a film running barely 90 minutes? Therein lays the problem.
Directed by Doug Liman and written by David Goyer and Jim Uhls, “Jumper” is fast-paced and plays fast and loose with the story, barely slowing down to take the time to explain anything. So, we go along for the ride. And little of it makes sense.
It is almost as though Liman is borrowing elements from his earlier films and combining them all to make “Jumper”. He has an attractive young cast involved in a fast-paced lifestyle (“Go”), there are moments when the dialogue is meant to be funny and witty (“Swingers”) and there is a lot of over the top action, some of which is believable and exciting (“The Bourne Identity”) and some of it is simply too over the top to be taken seriously (“Mr. & Mrs. Smith”). And because all of these elements seem borrowed from other, generally better, films, “Jumper” has a bit of a recycled feel to it. Strangely, this didn’t even bother me that much. Because Liman keeps the pace moving, I didn’t mind the fact he borrows elements from his other films. The story moves too fast to allow you to care that much.
More problematic is the fact Liman doesn’t seem to care that much about taking any time to explain the various plot points. We never really learn who the Paladins are. Yes, Roland is hunting the jumpers, and spouting various statements like “Only God should be able to do as he pleases with no consequence.” But who are these people? How do they know about the Jumpers? And why do they care? Who is Roland? Apparently, his group has been hunting Jumpers for centuries. Are they a religious sect? I’m not sure Liman even knows.
At one point, Roland is able to follow David in one of his jumps, because he has this new machine. We don’t really learn about the machine’s creation, purpose or use. But it apparently works and because it works this can be problematic for Griffin and David.
It also seems strange that David would wait eight years to contact Millie. And she, of course, jumps right back into his arms. Naturally, it helps that he whisks her off to Rome, one of the places she has always dreamed of visiting, first class. As soon as they arrive at their hotel, she has an unintentionally funny line “Just think; only ten hours ago we were in Ann Arbor.” The girl moves fast, almost as fast as Liman moves the story.
But more importantly, David is not even remotely interested in using his power to help someone, anyone. He uses the skill to rob banks and visit sights around the world – which doesn’t seem to excite him that much - living a completely hedonistic, selfish lifestyle. Early on, he watches a news story about people drowning in a flood before switching it off. Does he help them? No. I really think this moment was included to show he was looking for a place to catch some “righteous waves” on his surfboard. What the…? Really? Yes, really. A young man with a unique gift, the power to help people, watches a story about people drowning and uses this information to pinpoint where he can catch some large waves. Right.
And because the lead character in the film is so completely selfish, it is difficult to care about or for him. Will he win Millie’s heart? Do we want him to? If he is so selfish, is Millie deserving of such an asshole for a boyfriend? The relationship would have to be filled with nothing but disappointment. So Roland has David in his grasp and may just be able to kill the young man? Ehhh. The world might just be a better place.
In the hands of a more skilled actor, these moments might serve to make David seem complicated, interesting, more human. Yet, Christensen is not the actor. He is monotonous, at best, and boring, at worst. In the new “Star Wars” films, he made the interesting character of Annakin Skywalker, aka Darth Vader, boring. Granted, the new “Star Wars” films were hugely disappointing, but he brought nothing to a character already well-established and all but guaranteed to provide some interesting character development. Instead, he simply seemed like a petulant teenager. In “Jumper”, he mumbles most of his lines and never really seems to invest a lot of emotion into the character.
Rachel Bilson fares better. She seems pretty natural and Millie seems to be that rare breed of “Hollywood teenager”; the hot girl who actually likes the bookish, troubled kid instead of the football jock. Now that they are both “adults”, Millie is still interested in David. I’m sure it doesn’t hurt that he has grown up into a chiseled, good- looking young man who could probably be a fashion model. As they get to know each other again, and they cross paths with Griffin and Roland, Millie asks for, pleads for information, to be told the truth, etc. She acts like a real young woman who is trying to have a real relationship.
Samuel L. Jackson fares as well as Christensen and his role is marred for the same reasons. We simply don’t have enough of a picture who, what or why he is.
I have just returned from the year 2009 and have seen the sequel to “Jumper”. It was… Don’t think there will be a sequel? The ending of “Jumper” just screams sequel. And as I am such a sucker for Hollywood films, I will probably pay my $12 for a bargain matinee and report back to you. Stay tuned.