Boyishly lightweight sci-fi romp


on February 16, 2008 by John P. McCarthy

The first effects-driven release of 2008 won’t compel you to leap off the nearest tall building, nor will it make you jump to the defense of Hollywood. Jumper centers on a young adult with teleporting powers that enable him to zip around the globe at will through fissures in the universe’s spatial fabric. A pretty cool launching point, but elusiveness can be taken too far and Jumper is so elusive you quickly forget all about it. The visuals, particularly aerial shots of Rome’s Coliseum and the pyramids at Giza, are impressive. Without a mature storyline however, the travelogue experience is shallow. When you’re this light—weighing the same as one of the 10-year-old boys the movie seemingly targets—bouncing through space is easy. Add soda and candy for turbo-charging.

David Rice (Max Thieriot) is a bullied Michigan teen that discovers his special ability after falling into an icy pond while trying to woo his high school crush,
Millie (AnnaSophia Robb). He spills into the library stacks, waterlogged but alive and cognizant of his powers. Who knew the space-time continuum was so porous? Now you see David, now you don’t. There’s a swooshing sound whenever he jumps so we do hear him and when he can’t utilize a proper jump site (called a wormhole) there’s a messy crash because so much matter gets displaced. Soon David runs away to New York, robs a bank and—now portrayed by Hayden Christensen—sets up an apartment in a swank building and becomes a hedonist. Can this debauched lifestyle compensate for having been abandoned by mommy (Diane Lane) at age 5? Is Millie (now portrayed by Rachel Bilson), whom he eventually seeks out and dazzles, really worth all the fuss and commotion? And third, who is David’s mean pursuer Roland, besides Samuel L. Jackson with bleached hair and his Old Testament dander fully up?

We’re not given a whole lot to go on. Ample energy has been expended on the tech side, very little on plot and character. We learn nothing about the source of his abilities or the cosmic back story. That’s a relief since (a) we don’t really care and (b) exposition normally provides the dull filler in movies like this. Yet it’s also problematic because you suspect there’s not much to explain. Based on a novel by Steven Gould, Jumper is precariously idea-free. Whether the “mythology of the jumper” as the press notes call it is being withheld intentionally or is poorly refracted doesn’t matter. Here, calculated simplicity is indistinguishable from a lack of depth. After Shattered Glass and the Star Wars prequels, Christensen has the guilty and wounded adolescent thing down pat and gets no chance to grow as an actor.

While streamlined to a fault, at least Jumper doesn’t pretend to be cerebral. Nevertheless, it could still benefit from a different kind of levity. David’s jumper peer Griffin (Jamie Bell) flashes a sense of humor but the role is a truncated muddle. Judging by the blatant way the sequel is telegraphed, Doug Liman and company took their eyes off the bouncing hunk. Jumper is like a glorified TV pilot from 2005, when supernatural dramas were all the rage. It will make it onto the schedule, but have its legs cut out from under it before the season is over.

Distributor: Fox
Cast: Hayden Christensen, Jamie Bell, Rachel Bilson, Samuel L. Jackson, Diane Lane, Michael Rooker, AnnaSophia Robb and Max Thieriot
Director: Doug Liman
Screenwriters: David S. Goyer, Jim Uhls and Simon Kinberg
Producers: Arnon Milchan, Simon Kinberg, Lucas Foster and Jay Sanders
Genre: Science fiction/Action/Drama
Rating: PG-13 for sequences of intense action violence, some language and brief sexuality
Running time: 88 min.
Release date: February 14

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