Neatly vacuformed to a colorful cardboard backdrop, the sci-fi freneticism of Jumper is as slickly packaged as this year’s must-have action figure. And that isn’t meant as an insult. Honestly. The film may be geared toward providing easily accessible entertainment for the masses, but it does so in such an appealing way that plenty of people will be rushing to get their hands on it.
Based on the popular young adult book series by Steven Gould, Jumper has all the earmarks of a summer blockbuster a mere four months ahead of the curve. It’s directed by Doug Liman (The Bourne Identity, Mr. & Mrs. Smith), loosely adapted by David S. Goyer (Blade) and Jim Uhls (Fight Club), and backed by a massive wave of studio publicity. Apparently somebody thinks Jumper might just be Hollywood’s next big franchise. They might just be right.
David isn’t exactly an admirable dude, and Christensen instinctively taps into some of the selfish ego he unleashed in the Star Wars films to portray him. Still, it’s not hard to be envious of our boy David. Who wouldn’t want to live that kind of unfettered, globe-hopping lifestyle? Although it’s a fun ride for audiences of any age, Jumper shrewdly taps into the same sort of teenage mindset to which X-Men has always appealed. X-Men (in both comic and movie forms) managed to equate genetic mutation with teenage feelings of alienation. Jumper exploits the common teenage wish to be liberated, free to do anything you want without parental boundaries or societal consequences. Hayden Christensen is like James Dean in Rebel Without a Cause--only with superpowers. If the Golden Demographic grasps the unsubtle metaphor at the center of Jumper, this could blow up into a major hit.
David’s consequence-free lifestyle comes to an end, though, when his activities are finally exposed by a mysterious underground organization known as the Paladins. Turns out David isn’t the only Jumper out there. Seems the party-pooping, deeply religious Paladins don’t much appreciate the godlike powers Jumpers display. They’ve made it their mission, since at least the Middle Ages, to hunt down and kill Jumpers. David learns all this the hard way when a bad-ass Paladin named Roland (Samuel L. Jackson, in full-on bad-ass mode) tries to execute him using some freaky teleport-disrupting technology. David escapes by the skin of his teeth with the help of a fellow Jumper named Griffin (Billy Elliot’s Jamie Bell, all growed up and twitchy).
The film further invokes the superhero vibe by having David suggest a partnership just like in “Marvel Team-Up.” (Points for pop culture savvy.) But Griffin will have nothing to do with it. He knows how dangerous and organized the Paladins are. All he cares about is self-preservation. That, of course, used to be David’s primary motivation as well. But when Roland hunts down and kidnaps David’s high school crush (Rachel Bilson from “The O.C.” doing cutie duty), David figures it’s time to start using his abilities for good.
The film moves at a breathless, no-time-to-reflect pace, with Liman employing the same sort of insistent editing style he brought to earlier films. The quick-take technique works even better here, fitting in nicely with the cut-to-the-chase abilities of our characters. (How many movie fight scenes do you know that can span five continents in a heartbeat?) Admittedly, at a rapid-fire 88 minutes, the film doesn’t have time for subplots or any other window dressing. The script does explore its intriguing “what if” subject well, however, and paints its characters with efficient, timesaving strokes. In one early scene, for example, David lolls around his expensively furnished penthouse teleporting across the room because he’s too lazy to even reach for the remote. On TV, he flips past a live news report about the victims of a flood. He could easily teleport in there and rescue these people. The thought never even occurs to him and he changes the channel.
There’s a tiny bit of character development and a couple minor secrets revealed, but the film doesn’t work up any sweat digging into the mythology of Gould’s world. Some (readers, perhaps) may be frustrated by the film’s lack of narrative detail, but it does leave plenty to be explored in future sequels. (Something for which Jumper affords plenty of room.) A bigger budget, some higher profile stars--these are niceties that might have pushed Jumper into smash hit territory. But then, there’s no reason not to believe Jumper won’t be popping back into the picture next summer with even bigger and better thrills.
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