To cut them some slack, I can see how they might have been coaxed into this project. After all it comes from Doug Liman who made the indie hit Swingers and turned the Bourne novels into a highly successful franchise. And it did have an appealing sci-fi premise: what if some people were genetically endowed with the ability to teleport themselves anywhere in the world. I can even imagine the pitch meeting where someone explained with great enthusiasm how there could even be a teleporting fight around the globe. But just as the main character of David Rice (played by Hayden Christensen) fails to do anything clever with his gift, so too does Liman fail to do anything clever with his premise.
Here's the lowdown on the plot. Apparently people have been teleporting for centuries. These people are known as jumpers, and for centuries there have been other people --called Paladins -- hunting them down. You remember those Salem witch hunts? That was all about jumpers being persecuted by Paladins. Betcha didn't know that! Anyway, at the age of five this "gift" apparently kicks in. When Rice figures out what he can do, he quits school, leaves his dad and friends, robs banks (well he says he's just borrowing the money and he leaves I.O.U.'s to prove it), and engages in some extreme globetrotting. Eventually his activities attract the attention of badass Palidin Roland (Samuel L. Jackson) and bad boy jumper Griffin (Jamie Bell coming a long way from his charming debut in Billy Elliott ). There's also a cute girl (Rachel Bilson) thrown in to cause complications.
Mace and Anakin... umm, I mean, Roland and Rice square off in Jumper (20th Century Fox)
This film's only saving grace is some attractive location shooting. That's it. I can't think of anything else nice to say about this movie. The characters are unappealing and unengaging, and the story is dumb and uncompelling. Rice uses his teleporting skills to just move around his apartment, or from one side of the couch to the other. And each time he teleports, no matter how far or near, there are big sound effects and wind. Using the teleportation so frequently makes it grow old fast and we really start to tire of the sound effects. Rice, especially as played with bland woodenness by Christensen, is a smug, self-centered character who never changes even though the film would like us to think that he does. The story could have been fun with a smug SOB of a character who has nothing but his own needs on his mind. The film seems to want him to change from a social outcast in high school to a brash, cocky young man who yearns for his teenage sweetheart but can't take a break from jumping to pay her a visit. I don't know if the part is written badly or if Christensen is just that horrendous of an actor, but wherever the fault lies, the character of Rice doesn't hold our interest.
Plus, neither the character nor director Doug Liman seems to know how to have fun. There's not even fun or tension in the rivalry between Rice and Roland. It's all by the numbers and boring. The filmmakers don't even seem to realize how stupid it looks to have Jackson and Christensen (Mace Windu and Anakin Skywalker of the Star Wars films) squaring off with light saber looking weapons. Come on, if you're going to tap into such pop culture iconography like that at least do it knowingly! As Roland, Jackson delivers this verdict on the jumpers: "Only God should have the power to be all places at all times." Again this taps into pop culture references and you half expect Jackson to start riffing on his lines from Pulp Fiction when Jules starts quoting the Bible with lines like: "You will know my name is the Lord when I lay my vengeance upon thee." (And what's up with that white hair?!) But Liman and his team of writers have no sense of fun, no sense of humor and no idea how to play off these pop culture references.
Rachel Bilson is nothing more than eye candy with adorable dimples in Jumper (20th Century Fox)
At one point we're told that jumping allows you to skip all the boring parts. Well it didn't work here. It's amazing how a film that's cut so fast and changes locales with such speed can still make you yawn. And when the film gets itself into a corner, it just whips out stupid contrivances, like a machine that opens up wormholes to allow the Paladins to track the jumpers. There are other plot issues, like the fact that the filmmakers somehow want to keep all the characters moderately likable, even Roland. They even refuse to be critical of Rice, even though he keeps robbing banks to finance his globetrotting lifestyle, it's ridiculous. I mean if he never works, has no education and spends like crazy, how exactly was he planning on making good on the millions he owes in hand scrawled I.O.U.'s. The film could have been better if it was willing to give a little edge to the characters and allow Rice to be a selfish bastard (at least during his early jumping days and then he could change, maybe even have a character arc), and Roland to be worth killing because he's a mean, self-righteous person who enjoys playing God himself. But everything feels blandly homogenized here, which brings us back to the film being boring.
Jumper (rated PG-13 for sequences of intense action violence, some language and brief sexuality) is so bad that it might be useful in film classes to show students what not to do. In fact I've always felt that aspiring filmmakers can learn more from bad films than good ones. Great films can be intimidating for young filmmakers since those films are so well made that you can't see how you might have made them differently. But a bad film can be truly inspiring, you can see places where it goes wrong and where you could do better. So maybe Jumper could serve a purpose in film production classes to show students what not to do with tens of millions of studio dollars.
Companion viewing: The Fly, Pulp Fiction, The Bourne Identity