Jumper is one of the more entertaining kids’ movies in a long time, and that’s because it only occasionally feels aimed at children. Director Doug Liman brings the same punch and impact to the action scenes that he did to The Bourne Identity and Mr. & Mrs. Smith, and the screenwriting team’s collective c.v. boasts some impressive genre titles: Simon Kinberg penned Liman’s Mr. & Mrs. Smith, David S. Goyer’s history includes Dark City and Batman Begins, and Jim Uhls was responsible for adapting Fight Club, of all things. But all that potential firepower feels squandered when held up next to the finished product that is Jumper, a moderately suspenseful and generally decent little hard sci-fi tale. The film is based on Steven Gould’s novel, and while Liman’s film is ultimately a success at what it is, it’s a little deflating to realize that it is, in fact, nothing more than a young adult novel come to life, as brimming with easy solutions to hard problems as anything the genre has to offer.
The films starts out, as many of the middling ones often do, with a voice-over narration to spell out the emotions that the child actors in the prologue aren’t quite gifted enough to convey on their own. Young David (Max Theriot) is a lonely high-school kid of maybe 15; it’s unclear, or maybe just skimmed over. His mom split when he was 5, and his alcoholic father (Michael Rooker) isn’t exactly the nurturing figure David needs. He’s in puppy love with Millie (Annasophia Robb) and frequently tormented by the school bully. One day, through a mishap it’s really not worth describing in detail, David figures out he can teleport himself by concentrating hard enough. His first jaunt lands him in the library, but through practice he figures out some of the ground rules, and his self-education is one of the film’s better sequences. The effects of David’s jumps can have a slightly damaging effect on the world around him, from the noise of air and matter being displaced when he travels to walls and furniture breaking with the impact of an unfocused jump. David runs away from home, starts using his power to rob banks and buy swanky New York apartments, and becomes a snotty twentysomething embodied by Hayden Christensen. It’s the mostly grown-up David who’s been doing the narration so far, lifelessly reciting the forgettable lines about being special and having it all.
David, however, is about to have a few bad days. He’s been robbing banks ever since he dropped out of high school, spending his days jumping around the world and picking up foreign women in bars before flitting back home for some surfing or nap time. But one day a man named Roland (Samuel L. Jackson) shows up at his apartment telling David that Roland has been tracking him for years, ever since he first started robbing and jumping. Roland traps David and keeps him from jumping by firing an electrically charged cable that wraps around David and prevents his brain from doing whatever it needs to do to teleport, which is another nice moment that doesn’t just take the premise for granted but actually explains it, deepens it a little, and gives it some ground rules. David’s superpower would make him unstoppable, but by slowly introducing greater limitations and risks, Liman et al. ground the story in some semblance of reality. It’s apparently the job of Roland and fellow operatives to rid the world of jumpers, hence the knife Roland pulls out and tries to use on David. David teleports around the apartment before freeing himself and escaping.
With no other options, he returns home to Ann Arbor, Michigan, where he reconnects with Millie (now played by Rachel Bilson), who’s grown into the kind of slender and blindly trusting girl right at home in stories like this one. She’s kind, hardworking, single, and has apparently been saving herself for David’s eventual return, which certainly speeds up their new relationship. They travel to Rome together, but David gets pulled back into trouble when he meets another jumper, Griffin (Jamie Bell), who sheds a little more light on Roland’s organization and what they’re after. Griffin and David get into a brawl with two of Roland’s pals, and the animated effects are often dizzying as they jump from spot to spot, bouncing back and forth and taking everything from people to cars along for the jumps.
And yet, for all its attempted scope, Jumper never quite shakes the feeling that it’s just a high-caliber kids’ flick, albeit one with better action than usual. The film exults in the juvenile fantasies of a protagonist who never grew out of them, and who can’t see using his power beyond his own gain. That in itself isn’t unusual; most superhero origin stories start with the main character as self-centered before some external catalyst causes them to adjust their worldview in light of greater human suffering. (E.g., Spider-Man’s transition from wrestling for money to saving the world as atonement for his complicity in his uncle’s death.) But David never changes from basically a bank-robbing punk who gets caught by the wrong people, and what’s more, he never thinks twice about it. The only time the filmmakers hint that David could do something more with his gift is when David catches part of a news report about people trapped in a flooded area after a hurricane, complete with a news anchor speculating that “it would take a miracle” to get to the victims. David promptly turns off the TV, jumps to London, and cruises for townies at a bar. David never gives the people a second thought, and like that, any potential for him to think beyond himself is out the window.
The rest of the film unfolds with the economy of pace Liman’s established in his earlier works and a dogged determination to remain mostly kid-friendly, as when David attempts to sell Griffin on the idea of joining forces to fight Roland by comparing them to a Marvel Team-Up (twice). Christensen is oddly perfect in the role: He’s handsome and affable, but he excels at being that kid that screwed up one too many times and has to face the music. There’s a moment in Jumper that’s almost reminiscent of Shattered Glass, when David finally has to come clean with Millie about his life, and you can almost hear him being dragged into honesty. But the best performance comes from Bell, who’s fantastic as the kind of rogue sidekick. For the most part, though, Jumper is stuck in the awkward place between being smart enough to know its gifts and too dumb to grow up. But for kids’ stuff, it’s pretty good.
Daniel Carlson is the managing editor of Pajiba and a low-level employee at a Hollywood industry magazine. You can visit his blog, Slowly Going Bald.I Ain't the Worst That You've Seen
Film | February 15, 2008 | Comments ()