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Jumper (2008) Print E-mail
Thursday, 14 February 2008
When people talk about movies around the water cooler or over sandwiches, they use terms that movie reviewers rarely do—although we do use them in conversation. One such term is “pretty good.” I’m going to go out on a limb here and declare “Jumper” to be pretty good. It plays like a comic book superhero movie origin story, except that it’s based on a novel by Steven Gould, not a comic book.

But the comic book elements are there: a young hero with a super power, the girl he loved back in high school, a somewhat comic sidekick, a tough, powerful antagonist. Lots of dazzling effects. “Jumper” isn’t up to the level of some of director Doug Liman’s other movies, like “Swingers” and “The Bourne Identity,” but is about on the level with “Mr. and Mrs. Smith.” The pacing is rapid, the lines are delivered with crisp intensity, there’s a smattering of humor, and it builds to a climax. It doesn’t really have a story; instead, it’s a series of interlaced incidents linked by the characters rather than a narrative line.

A narrator’s voice tells us “Once I was a normal person—a chump, just like you.” Young David Rice (Max Thieriot) of Ann Arbor, Michigan, is wistfully fond of classmate Millie (AnnaSophia Robb), and one wintry day, presents her with a glass snow globe. Bully Mark, evidently Millie’s boyfriend, loves to pick on David, whom he calls “Rice Bowl” (bullies are not noted for their wit); he tosses the globe onto a nearby frozen river. When David tries to retrieve the globe, he falls through the ice and is swept away by the current, while Millie watches helplessly from the shore. We see that David is about to drown when he’s abruptly in the local library; he brought some water with him.

Confused at first—who could blame him?—and estranged from his single-parent father (Michael Rooker), David soon realizes that he has unaccountably gained the ability to teleport. (We hear that his mother left when he was five.) There’s only the slightest hint of the basis of this power, and that doesn’t come for almost an hour (and then it’s just the word “wormholes”), but this doesn’t matter. What he can do is clearly demonstrated. He leaves Ann Arbor for New York city, teleports into a bank vault, loads up sacks with money, and teleports out again, literally rolling in dough back in his flophouse room.

Time passes, and David (now Hayden Christensen) is in his twenties, living in dude luxury in an expensive apartment. He’s become so casually adept at teleporting that he uses the power just to cross a room, blinking out in one spot, blinking in elsewhere.
Rich as hell—he now has a vault of his own, lined with shelves of greenbacks—he lives a casual, busy life, but a solitary one. He teleports anywhere he likes—in front of Big Ben’s clock face, the top of the Sphinx—anywhere. He can carry things with him, too; with his surfboard, he teleports around the world looking for gnarly conditions, relaxes again atop the Sphinx complete with surfboard.

But we’ve already seen grim-faced, white-haired Roland (Samuel L. Jackson) pursuing him; Roland investigated that initial bank robbery. When David returns to Ann Arbor and looks up Millie (now Rachel Bilson), Roland isn’t far behind. David tries to hook up with Millie, but returns to his NYC apartment—and Roland arrives there. He has a power rod that fires electrical cables; he can shock David out of his powers. We gradually learn that there have been “jumpers” for millennia, and that there is a religious-based organization of “Paladins” who consider it literally their sacred duty to stop jumpers from using their powers—by whatever means necessary. Roland shouts once that only God should have such power, that people who can teleport are abominations.

We’ve noticed a scruffy-looking guy, Griffin (Jamie Bell), in the background. When David takes Millie—by plane—on a Roman holiday, Griffin turns up. He’s a jumper, too. “Did you think you were the only one?” he asks the amazed David. And jumpers can follow one another. “I just came through your jump scar.”

There’s a lot of action in this section of the somewhat short movie, including a teleporting car roaring through city streets. We learn that Roland and his assistants have a device enabling them, too, to teleport by following a jumper’s wormhole traces. There’s a bunch of scenes in the Colosseum in Rome, there are jumps to Tokyo, jumps to the desert. It all becomes quite dazzling as it winds back to Ann Arbor for the climax.

And someone, maybe original author Gould, maybe screenwriters David S. Goyer, Jim Uhls and/or Simon Kinberg, has given some thought to the question of teleporting. There are no explanations, but we can see clearly that a jumper brings whatever is immediately around him along with him when he teleports (which is how Griffin can teleport a car). This sudden removal creates a vacuum at the spot the jumper takes off from, so loose stuff is sucked toward that spot. In the arrival location, the incoming jumper’s bubble of existence can knock down shelves, sometimes put a perfectly round crater in the floor. And there was that water, too.

All this is reasonably original. There have been other movie characters who can teleport; this is the only movie to focus on that power, and it’s enough to sustain the film. Director Liman doesn’t rely only on editing to demonstrate the teleportation; there are effects that range from mere wavery areas in the air to cascades of water and sudden force. The effects are understated but imaginative and well-worked out.

The dialogue is effective though not exactly quotable, although I did like it when David, trying to get Griffin to help him rescue Millie, asks “You read ‘Marvel Team-Up’?” It’s a surprisingly low-key admission that we’re watching a superhero movie.

Evidently, the movie shot for a while with two other actors as David and Millie. Still, Christensen is a bit weak as David; he’s probably really a character actor being forced into lead roles he’s not quite suited for. Here, as in his “Star Wars” outings as Anakin, he’s petulant when he should be angry, surly when he should be brooding. He doesn’t harm the movie, but he doesn’t provide much strength. Rachel Bilson is attractive and lively; the role doesn’t require much more. Diane Lane has a few brief scenes as David’s runaway mother, who turns out to have a secret of her own. She brings up an idea the movie then drops: David first teleported when he was five. So how come he never used that ability again, didn’t even know he had it, until he was trapped under the ice?

Jamie Bell is fun as Griffin, a character who wasn’t in the novel (but Gould has now written a novel about him). He’s a kind of wily street rat, an outsider who tries to keep his power unnoticed. Samuel L. Jackson looks striking in his white hair, and as always, is stern and authoritative, but there’s nothing much to his character. He’s just standard-issue bad guy, this time also a fanatic.

The movie seems to be a setup for a series, and maybe it will achieve that. It’s a slick, big-studio production with occasionally striking cinematography by Barry Peterson and attractive sets by Oliver Scholl, although some of them look more like sets than they should.

Though well produced, “Jumper” has a slightly hangdog air, like a second-string comic book at DC or Marvel. This is Hawkman, not Superman; this is Daredevil, not Spider-Man. It’s a bit undernourished—that short running time, plus the fact that David’s father simply vanishes from the narrative without an explanation—suggests that there was a fair amount of material deleted from the release cut.

It could have been better, but it’s a pretty good movie, especially for a movie being sort of tossed out the door in the doldrums of winter.

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