Director: Doug Liman
Starring: Hayden Christensen, Samuel L. Jackson, Rachel Bilson, Jamie Bell, Diane Lane, Max Thieriot, AnnaSophia Robb, Michael Rooker
Running Time: 88 min.
** (out of ****)
I can’t stand it when a movie botches an intriguing premise. I think I’d almost rather see a film that’s consistently terrible and has no potential for success because being teased is never fun. The teleportation sci-fi adventure Jumper opens with a fascinating prologue and then completely blows it, dropping the ball the rest of the way through. Before popping in any DVD I always take a glance at the running time on the back of the case just so I know what to prepare for time-wise. You never know when you need a bathroom break. I was surprised to read that this was going to be 88 minutes (insert your Al Pacino joke here), an unheard of display of restraint in today’s age of bloated, overlong blockbusters. I took it as a good sign, that maybe it would do what it needs to and get out quick. I should have known better. What’s not going to work won’t, no matter how many minutes you’re filling. A shorter film isn’t necessarily a tighter one any more than a longer film is guaranteed to be an epic masterpiece.
A great movie could have been made from all the questions that go unanswered in this screenplay and maybe one day someone other than Doug Liman will decide to make it. And when they do they might realize it probably isn’t a good idea to make your hero an arrogant brat who physically and emotionally abuses his girlfriend. Or waste talented actors in nothing roles. Or cause motion sickness with dizzying special effects. It’s a shame because this really could have been something, had they chosen to really explore an idea brimming with dramatic possibilities. Instead, it’s just a big mess with a very few bright spots, most of which come within the first ten minutes.
The opening of the film is so good that it’s almost hard to come to terms with what follows. A childhood accident prompts teenager David (Max Thierot) to discover has the unique ability to teleport or “jump” from one place to another instantaneously. This incident separates him from his childhood crush Millie (AnnaSophia Robb) and his abusive alcoholic father (Michael Rooker), both of whom believe him to be dead. What he’s doing is transporting across the globe, gaining control of his powers and robbing banks for some extra cash. That last part is what attracts the attention of NSA agent Roland (Samuel L. Jackson) who tracks down jumpers and kills them because…well, we’re never really quite sure. He’s just a bad guy.
It’s when we flash forward a few years into the future with David as an adult (played by Hayden Christensen) being pursued by Roland and reuniting with Millie (now Rachel Bilson) that the movie starts to develop some major problems. Thieriot and Robb gave absolutely sensational performances in the opening minutes as the younger versions of David and Millie. I was captivated by their story and couldn’t wait to see where it would go in the future. I knew Christensen and Bilson would have their work cut out for them attempting to follow it, but I couldn’t have been prepared for results this disastrous. The two older performers are out-acted in every way possible by their younger counterparts who opened the film. I felt like getting on my hands and knees and begging Liman to bring them back.
When they reunite, adult David has suddenly transformed into an egotistical, self-entitled jerk and Millie has turned into Summer Roberts from The O.C. I can almost picture Liman (who not so coincidentally was a producer on that show.) telling Bilson: “Rachel, just act like Summer ” Insulting, really, because at least that character had a lot more depth to her than this. Anyone who's seen The Last Kiss knows Bilson is capable of delivering in an important supporting role but this isn’t one. It may as well be described in the script as “SOME GIRL.” The only actor who effectively conveys the adulthood transition is Veronica Mars’ Teddy Dunn, who hilariously recaptures the childhood bully we saw in the film’s opening. He disappeared into the role so well it actually took me the entire length of the movie to finally realize who the actor was.
David and Millie have morphed into different (and noticeably more unlikable) people and their big reunion falls flat. She doesn’t even seem to care that he’s alive and he doesn’t care that she doesn’t care. So of course minutes later they’re jumping into bed together. Since she doesn’t know his “big secret” he’s literally dragging her on the vacation from hell when he’s being chased by Jackson’s Cisqo look-alike and trailed by another jumper (played by Jamie Bell). I find it ironic that the filming of this led to a real-life relationship between Christensen and Bilson because they share ZERO chemistry on screen. They actually seem more like bickering siblings.
The character of Millie often comes off as an idiot by putting up with David’s cocky attitude the entire time and never questioning him. It sets female characters in films back about 50 years. And sorry, but there’s no other way to put it: Christensen plays David as a complete asshole. He’s rude and sarcastic to everyone he encounters and we’re supposed to have sympathy for him because he leaves “I.O.U” notes at the banks he robs. At this rate Christensen seems destined to spend the rest of his career paying for George Lucas’ sins, which is a shame. The worst thing he could have done was take another role as an unlikable, angst-ridden man-child in a science-fiction film. I actually think even Annakin Skywalker was more likable and had greater depth than this guy.
Why shouldn’t I root for Jackson’s character? If nothing else he’s dedicated, which, unless I’ve lost count, is one more positive attribute than David has. Or at least I would root for Jackson’s character if I knew the slightest thing about him. Why does he want to kill jumpers so badly? He says that all jumpers “go bad,” whatever that means. Maybe he’s talking about David’s selfish behavior and abuse of his powers. If that’s the case I can’t say I blame Roland for wanting to kill him, which is a problem if you’re trying to root for the hero.
No one’s given any motivation or development. We never know how David actually feels about jumping or why he feels the need to do it so often. And when I say often I mean like every two seconds. Wouldn’t he get dizzy or sick? I know I was starting to after a while just watching him with all the hand-held camera work and cheesy special effects. The intriguing notion of jumping, set up so well in the prologue, is overused to the point where it isn’t important or special anymore. We just want it to stop. At one point Jamie Bell’s character says that he likes to just walk sometimes rather than teleport because it makes him “feel normal.” In that one line he suggests all the possibilities this film failed to exploit.
You may have noticed in the credits that Diane Lane is in this, She has a scene as David’s long-lost mother where she runs into a room and screams like a lunatic for 15 seconds then leaves. It’s embarrassing, but not even the worst scene she has. That comes later. Kristen Stewart appears…to open a door and deliver one line of dialogue. Why cast talented big name actors in cameo roles where they do absolutely nothing? It’s a waste of money and a sure sign something went horribly wrong at the production stage. When you have actors of that caliber you try to get the most out of them that you can. As bad as the movie is, it’s compulsively watchable because of its premise, which in a way just makes all of it that much more disappointing.
I’ll give author Steven Gould (who wrote the 1992 novel from which this is based) the benefit of the doubt that his ideas were completely thinned out if not altogether eliminated by David S. Goyer and Jim Uhls’ script. I know this is an action/adventure and don’t expect characters to pause every second and explain there motivations but it isn’t asking too much for there to be a clear set of rules and the characters’ desires come through in their behavior. The ending hints threatens they’ll be a sequel and Christensen has stated in interviews there may be as many as two more Jumper films. I hope for his and Bilson’s sake that’s not true. If it is, I’m teleporting myself out of the theater.