Monday 7 July 2008

Jumper (2008)

Monday 7 July 2008
Director: Doug Liman
Writers: Simon Kinberg, Jim Uhls & David S. Goyer (based on a novel by Steven Gould)

Cast: Hayden Christensen (David Rice), Rachel Bilson (Millie Harris), Samuel L. Jackson (Roland Cox), Jamie Bell (Griffin), Michael Rooker (William Rice), Diane Lane (Mary Rice), Teddy Dunn (Mark Kobold), Max Thieriot (David Rice, teenager), AnnaSophia Robb (Millie Harris, teenager) & Kristen Stewart (Sophie)

A young man discovers he has the power of teleportation, but finds himself caught up in a centuries-old battle against those fearful of "jumpers"...

I feel a bit sorry for director Doug Liman; his debut Swingers was cult-cool, follow-up Go was entertaining but nobody saw it, his Bourne Identity only became a phenomenon with its superior sequels, Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie's real-life romance overshadowed the fun of spy-action Mr & Mrs Smith, and now Jumper has been branded a listless bore by most critics...

And it's true; the high-concept Jumper is his weakest film. But it's visually a treat and provides 90-minutes of superficial whiz-bang entertainment, thanks to a mythology that unspools at a careful lick, and a teleportation effect that's more exciting than you'd expect. Hayden Christensen (Star Wars Episode II & III) plays David Rice, a young man who discovered he could teleport after falling into an icy lake and, with his life threatened, transporting himself to the local library with a splash...

After getting a handle on his new-found powers, David leaves his abusive father (Michael Rooker) for a life of crime (stealing cash from locked bank vaults), becoming accustomed to his bachelor lifestyle of ill-gotten luxury -- flitting from his playboy apartment to stand on the face of Big Ben, or take in the sights atop the Sphinx. It's a life of no physical limitations, but David soon discovers there are other "jumpers" around -- like roguish Griffin (Jamie Bell), who introduces him to "the war" between jumpers and Paladin (killjoy assassins, led by Samuel L. Jackson's Roland, who believe jumpers are abominations because only God can be "everywhere at once"). Apparently, nobody has informed the Paladin that jumpers can't "be in all places at all times", actually -- but, hey...

Throw in a girlfriend unaware of David's secret, The OC's Rachel Bilson as Millie Harris, and the stage is set for a fairly predictable sci-fi chase movie. The film has plenty of problems, particularly the lack of development for any of its characters. David's the hero, Griffin's the mentor, Roland's the villain, Millie's the damsel-in-distress. The actors all struggle to breathe life or depth into these archetypes, but only Bell rises above the material thanks to an enjoyable swagger and northern accent you don't often hear in big US movies.

Christensen is less wooden than when portraying Anakin Skywalker (the absence of a George Lucas script will do that), but he's a handsome puppet Liman manipulates throughout the film, and never a three-dimensional person. There's the inference of paternal abuse in David's history, but it's never developed into anything interesting, because the film is more interested in the simple cat-and-mouse thrills. A sub-plot about the mystery surrounding his absent mother (Diane Lane) is intermittently returned to, but only really exists to set-up a sequel in the dying minutes.

Samuel L. Jackson is what you'd expect: grizzled, determined, white-haired(?), and handling the action better than he did in Star Wars. Roland's a simple creation, who doesn't even have a personal issue with jumpers or any of the characters. He's just the face of a vague secret society that have been tracking and slaughtering jumpers for centuries -- and questions about why God would continue to allow these "abominations" to be born, are left unasked. I mean, why should the Paladin question the sanctity of their crusade in this movie, when there's so much time for electrified-lasso action -- hm?

Bilson's kinda cute, but she's not a great actress. I wasn't aware of her breakthrough role in TV's The OC, just her guest-starring role in a few episodes of TV's Chuck, but she's clearly a good-looking girl who's cast for her diminutive, easygoing sex-appeal. There's a slither of chemistry between Bilson and Christensen, but not enough to get excited about, or provide an emotional connection when Millie is inevitably captured by Roland and used as bait.

The one truly successful aspect of Jumper is its teleportation effect, with the jumpers often dragging surroundings from one location to the next (usually water) and causing seismic tremors. The internal logic isn't always clear, as sometimes David jumps around in his apartment with no problems, and only sometimes causes localized damage. I think it has something to do with his mental state (he trashes a hospital when trying to save his father's life), but it's not made clear.

Also, we're told jumpers can only travel to places they've been, can see, can visualize through a photo, or by sneaking through another jumper's spatial "jump scar" -- but that doesn't explain how Griffin is able to tail David around the world, at times. Still, the rules regarding jumps are drip-fed throughout the film nicely, helping to sustain interest as another limitation or danger is explained through David's self-experimentation or Griffin's words of experience.

Doug Liman directs the action well -- particularly a central fight in Rome's Coliseum between efficient Griffin, out-of-his-depth David and two professional Paladin armed with high-tech weaponry to neutralize jumpers. Other than that, nothing really stands out, although there are plenty of visually-appealing scenes demonstrating the jump-effect -- like a sports car ride through Tokyo and a climactic grapple with Roland through jump-scars...

Overall, Jumper should have been so much more. Steven Gould's 1992 novel is decent source material for a movie, while Jim Uhls (Fight Club) and David Goyer (Batman Begins) worked on the script before Simon Kinberg (X-Men III) arrived to polish it. It seems strange that the writer of xXx was tasked with improving the work of Uhls and Goyer, but at some stage the storyline lost its punch and became inconsistent -- leaving the completed film to trade heavily on admittedly-excellent FX.

While certainly watchable and diverting on quite a few occasions, there's not much substance to sink your teeth into and the characters don't leap off the screen. Jumper's a good idea, successful in the technical execution of its teleporting, but hamstrung by uninteresting performances and a plot that doesn't have much to show you beyond a few diverting action set-pieces.

20th Century Fox
Budget: $85 million
90 minutes