'Jumper' Doesn't Get Much Liftoff
Thursday, February 14, 2008
Continuity has always been a bugaboo for Hollywood, the necessity for things to make sense and follow some kind of narrative logic, a demand that presents screenwriters with all manner of headaches, hair-tearing and plot-hole-induced dementia. "Jumper" dispenses with the pesky notion altogether, engaging in geographic non sequiturs with giddy promiscuity, sending its main character from New York to London to Giza to Tokyo in the blink of an eye, and plopping him into twists, turns and sudden developments with equally arbitrary abandon.
So if anything, "Jumper" should be a lot of fun to watch, unchained as it is from the usual rules of the game. But the science-fiction fantasy, in which Hayden Christensen somnambulates through the role of a young man with genetic teleporting powers, is oddly inert. Aside from bouncing viewers through a veritable Fodor's guide of 1,000 places they should see before they die, "Jumper" suffers from long, talky sequences and a shocking lack of visual imagination. The chief special effect, wherein Christensen disappears and reappears to the accompaniment of a whooshing sonic thump, is a big yawn, having already been perfected for the ages by Ray Walston in the 1960s sitcom "My Favorite Martian." It's that rare genre picture targeted to teens and young adults that suffers from underkill.
Part of the problem is Christensen, whose breakout role was playing the young Anakin Skywalker in the recent execrable "Star Wars" installments, and who has never managed to project anything but a sullen air of lazy entitlement. That persona actually fits his character, David Rice, who in "Jumper" uses his teleporting powers for everything from robbing banks to scooting down the couch to grab the remote. He's a spoiled, petulant creep, so when he's visited by a mysterious stranger named Roland, who proceeds to beat the stuffing out of him, it's difficult to know whom to root for.
Roland, by the way, is played by Samuel L. Jackson in a performance that, considered in tandem with "Snakes on a Plane," seems designed to dissuade audiences from ever taking him seriously again. Stalking through "Jumper" with his hair dyed an unearthly shade of white, he snarls and shouts, variously claiming to work for the NSA, the CIA and the IRS (presumably saving the most terrifying cover story for last). Roland is actually a soldier in a centuries-long war between Jumpers and Paladins, the latter of whom insist that omnipotence should be the purview of the Big Teleporter Upstairs.
"Jumper," which was directed by Doug Liman and is based on the novel by Steven Gould, is essentially a global chase movie. Along the way David picks up two allies in his schemes to outsmart Roland. First, he meets a fellow Jumper, a cheeky Brit named Griffin (Jamie Bell). And then he returns to his childhood home in Ann Arbor, Mich., to track down his old sweetheart Millie, played by Rachel Bilson in a performance as vapid as Christensen's is tepid. Wispy-voiced, devoid of humor or libidinal zing, physically un-commanding, these two bring to mind Gloria Swanson in "Sunset Boulevard" when she laments, "We had faces then." Now faces are all we have left, as a generation of attractive blank slates engage in a numbing game of the bland leading the bland.
The big set piece of "Jumper" is a climactic chase scene that takes David from Giza to Times Square to Chechnya and beyond. It should be a way-cool kick in the pants, but Liman -- who made his name directing such hyper-caffeinated films as "Go" and "The Bourne Identity" -- dispenses with even the most visceral pleasures of pulp, rendering "Jumper" oddly lifeless. Strange as it sounds, this is a movie that fails not for lack of substance, but for lack of style.
Jumper (88 minutes, at area theaters) is rated PG-13 for sequences of intense action violence, some profanity and brief sexuality.