In the thick portfolio of superpowers, teleportation ranks a bit low on the excitement scale. You’re here — now you’re there. I suppose it’s useful if you’re in a hurry, or if you want to beat traffic. (I’d see a lot more movies if I could “jump” to any theater I wanted.) The protagonist of Jumper, David Rice (Hayden Christensen), doesn’t use his space-hopping for the greater good or even for anything interesting. He sits in his lush New York loft, paid for with money he stole from banks (he “jumps” into vaults and makes off with bags of cash), and watches world catastrophes unfold on TV without lifting a finger. People are trapped in a flood! Who can get in there to save them? Not David. He doesn’t care. He changes the channel.

Jumper might have been the story of how this jaded, affectless young man learns to harness his powers to help mankind. It isn’t, though. Heavily indebted to X-Men (by way of Steven Gould’s 1992 young-adult novel), the movie sets David on a fight-and-retreat loop. David, you see, is but one in a long line of Jumpers, who have been persecuted for centuries by zealous Christian assassins known as Paladins. The Paladins’ reasoning? “Nobody but God should have this power.” Uh, okay. So why’d God give them the power in the first place? The Paladins aren’t much on thinking the argument through. So essentially all David does is run from the Paladins (whose leader is Samuel L. Jackson, carrying some sort of jumping-prohibitive cattle prod) and try to protect his high-school sweetheart (Rachel Bilson). Not much seems to be at stake. The Paladins don’t even want to use the Jumpers for their own evil purposes; they just want them dead. It’s a private conflict. I felt like quoting the guy in Pulp Fiction: “My name’s Paul, and this is between y’all.”

Did the director, Doug Liman, care much about the conflict either? Like other recent Liman films (The Bourne Identity, Mr. and Mrs. Smith), this just seems like a movie his agent said he should do. I wasn’t a big fan of Liman’s debut Swingers, but at least it had some personality and some humans, and his sophomore effort Go was fun enough. But it’s clearer than ever that Liman is a hack, or, to put it more gently, a journeyman director who’s only as good as the script. After a while, the mild novelty of seeing Hayden Christensen go whoosh from one spot to another gets tiresome. Once or twice Liman actually uses the film language of jump cuts to convey the effect, but only once or twice. An experimental filmmaker could’ve made wild cinema out of this, but experimental filmmakers usually don’t get handed $85 million. Guys like Doug Liman do.

As a fellow Jumper who squats in a cluttered hideout and occasionally zips out to pick off a Paladin or two, Jamie Bell gives the film some much-needed humor and energy. He effortlessly swipes the movie out from under the dishwater-dull Christensen, presumably cast as the lead because of his Star Wars association. Even Teddy Dunn, as a baffled drunk who once bullied David, blows Christensen away. I’m prepared to eat my words if I ever get around to seeing Shattered Glass and Life as a House, in which Christensen is reputedly not like a cheeseburger without the cheese or the burger, but he definitely doesn’t have the moxie for big special-effects movies. He and the equally bland Rachel Bilson were last-minute replacements for other actors, and it shows.

Jumper raked in $26 million over a slow February weekend from moviegoers with nothing better to do, apparently. The movie’s only 88 minutes long, but I found my mind wandering: Perhaps I could jump to a city art-house theater showing George Romero’s Diary of the Dead, or the acclaimed 4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days, or the horror-comedy Teeth, or the Lebanese comedy-drama Caramel. Those films, and many others you haven’t seen advertised ad nauseum, are out there in a tiny handful of theaters. Jumper opened on 3,428 screens. Remember that when they start gassing on about the magic of movies on Oscar night. They’re talking about the movies you never get to see in theaters, not movies like Jumper.

Explore posts in the same categories: action/adventure, adaptation, science fiction

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