Jumper (United States, 2008)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

One of the cardinal rules when making a motion picture about a superhero, especially one no one has heard of, is not to make the integrity of the story depend on the existence of a sequel. Unfortunately, that's a rule that director Doug Liman breaks. If the viewer is able to ignore the wooden performances of Hayden Christensen and Rachel Bilson, what's on screen is fine, and even exciting at times. But there's no resolution. Three plot threads are left dangling. Jumper feels like a 90-minute tease. Viewers are left waiting for what comes next and, unless there is a follow-up (which seems unlikely), that dangling will continue for all time. The movie is surprisingly short; couldn't another 15 minutes have been spent fleshing out a few ambiguities and providing the sense of closure that is otherwise absent?

Really, Liman should know better. He helmed The Bourne Identity, which became the first of three interlinked Bourne productions. Liman and his screenwriters approached The Bourne Identity as a stand-alone with the potential to expand. That's not the case here. Coherence demands a second installment but there's nothing in the movie's pedigree, marketing, or pre-box office projections that indicate it will generate enough support to demand a follow-up. As a result, everyone paying $10 to see Jumper will have to do what Golden Compass fans have been forced into: reading the books to see where things go next (and ignore the inevitable discontinuities between script and novel).

What makes it to the screen is often fun. Liman applies the same frenetic approach to action scenes that made The Bourne Identity such an engaging and exciting affair. There's a lot of cutting during the climactic battle sequences but that makes sense considering what's happening. And Liman limits his use of the potentially nausea inducing hand held shots to a couple of instances. Jumper is clean, clear, and spare, lacking only a semi-satisfying ending.

The film's best scenes are the early ones for two reasons. First, when it comes to superhero "origin stories," the most enjoyable parts are usually those in which the protagonist explores his or her powers. That's where the fun and wonder lies, as the hero begins to understand the pros and cons of the abilities that set him/her apart from everyone else. Second, the actors playing the teenage versions of the characters are more believable and sympathetic than those who play their adult counterparts. AnnaSophia Robb (A Bridge to Terabithia) and Max Thieriot (The Astronaut Farmer) outact Bilson and Christensen by such a stretch that it sucks energy and life from the movie when they are replaced.

The film opens in Ann Arbor, where a socially awkward high school student, David Rice (Thieriot) tries to give a token of his affection to the girl next-door of his dreams, Millie (Robb). It goes disastrously wrong when a bully gets his hands on the snow globe intended for Millie and tosses it onto a river with thin ice. Attempting to retrieve it, David goes under; however, instead of perishing in a watery grave, he spontaneously teleports into the Ann Arbor library. Allowing everyone to believe him to be dead, including his abusive, alcoholic father (Michael Rooker), David hones his teleportation abilities until he can travel freely almost anywhere. To get a little money, he robs a bank, and that's what brings him to the attention of NSA agent Roland (Samuel L. Jackson), who doesn't like "jumpers."

Fast forward the better part of a decade. David (Christensen) is now an adult and has adapted nicely to a life of privilege and luxury. But he's lonely and returns to Ann Arbor to locate Millie (Bilson). Their reunion results in a whirlwind romance and a trip to Rome. While there, Millie begins to suspect there's something strange about David, and David learns he's not unique. He meets Griffin (Jamie Bell), who informs him he's in the middle of a centuries-old war between "jumpers" and "paladins" and it's kill-or-be-killed. Roland, it seems, is a fanatic who will destroy anyone and anything that stands between him and putting a knife into a jumper's heart.

The film's rules for jumpers are intentionally left unclear so that the movie can play with them as the story evolves. It's not like in The Time Traveler's Wife, however, where travelers are restricted from bringing anything, including clothing, with them. The concept of the war between the jumpers and the paladins is left half-explained and underexplored. I kept thinking of the hatred between werewolves and vampires in the Underworld movies. If there's a rich mythology underlying this religious struggle, it never makes it to the screen.

Finally, there's a sense of a missed opportunity with respect to the relationship between David and Millie. The failure is both one of the screenplay, which relegates Millie into the role of more a prop than a character, and of the actors, neither of whom is able to imbue his or her character with any real sense of humanity. Christensen has enough highlights on an uneven resume to convince me he can act, but lazy performances such as this don't make him someone to watch for.

I was intrigued enough by half-explored ideas and unresolved plot threads that I would watch a sequel to Jumper - not that I expect one to be produced. The concepts and premise have more promise than what's delivered to the screen, but that's not a quality unique to Jumper. As long as the viewer understands that there's a lot left open-ended by the time the credits roll, the movie is capable of diverting for the better part of one and one-half hours.

Jumper (United States, 2008)

Run Time: 1:28
U.S. Release Date: 2008-02-14
MPAA Rating: "PG-13" (Violence, Profanity, Sexual Situations)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1