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February 19, 2008

Jumper a hop, skip away from disaster

[img id="80315" align="alignleft"] For one fleeting scene, Jumper reaches glory. Near the end of the new film from Doug Liman, director of Mr. & Mrs. Smith, a knife-wielding Samuel L. Jackson corners Hayden Christensen. Suddenly, the entire movie makes sense, and the preceding 60 or so execrable minutes are forgiven. It is clear that this scene is the reason for Jumper’s existence. You picture Jackson requesting—no, demanding—that this movie be made just so he can act in this scene and thereby apologize to moviegoers everywhere for Star Wars: Episode III, which sacrificed all its credibility by suggesting that the schmucky Christensen could ever defeat Jackson, even indirectly. The Pulp Fiction actor is here to get his revenge on Anakin Skywalker and thereby atone for his own complicity in the Star Wars prequel debacles. Jackson advances, knife ready, and joy is within reach.

I won’t spoil the ending of Jumper, but the movie seems inexplicably determined to present Christensen as the good guy. He plays David Rice, a jumper, or someone with a genetic mutation that allows him to teleport at will. Jackson is in turn presented as the bad guy and plays a paladin named Roland who has committed himself to eliminating jumpers. You can probably guess who wins the climactic battle, since Jumper seems steadfastly determined to deny us our much-deserved catharsis.

The film rides, and quickly collapses, on the shoulders of young Darth Vader. Christensen is not necessarily a bad actor, but he seems capable only of vacillating between expressions of smugness or vague angst. He exudes physical and moral weakness, and looks sort of like a jerk to boot. He fails to give off the charisma or air of tragedy necessary to justify his having superpowers, so you quickly find yourself hoping he’ll get beaten up. Jackson comes across not as an unreasonable antagonist, but rather as the audience’s surrogate. Thus scenes which should be dramatic (Oh no! Hayden’s cornered!) provoke unintended responses (Wipe that smirk off his face, Sam!).

In his slight defense, Christensen is not given much to work with. Indeed, the script makes a convincing argument that some writers should have stayed on strike. The movie’s premise is that jumpers can teleport and, because of this, paladins want to kill them. Confused yet? Neither was I, and yet Jumper insists on having its characters frequently declare what they’re feeling and/or what has literally just happened on screen (and yet never bothers to explain why no one seems to notice that people are teleporting in and out of major airports and public parks). Either the screenwriters vastly overestimate the plot’s complexity or, depressingly, underestimate our intelligence.

However, the overwritten lines do provide the movie’s few entertaining moments. One highlight is when Max Theriot—infinitely more likeable in the role of the young David than Christensen is—asks, after teleporting for the first time, “Did I just teleport?” The best, however, has to be when Jackson’s Roland, after kidnapping Christensen’s love interest (Rachel Bilson—pretty, but not given much to do) declares to no one in particular, “Now he has to come to us.” Well, duh. Surprisingly, the script was co-written by David Goyer (Batman Begins), who should really know better.

That’s not to say the movie is a complete waste, although it comes pretty close. The silver-haired Jackson, acting as if he’s “jumped” in from one of his better movies, is entertaining as a religiously inspired killer. Jackson’s ability to sound menacing when he’s spouting crap and clichés is impressive, and it makes it all the more unnecessary for him to settle for nonsense like this. The film’s other highlight is King Kong’s Jamie Bell, who has a smallish part as another jumper. Bell, like Jackson, fights a winning battle against this inane script and has enough sadness-tinged charm to make a convincing case that he deserves to be in far better movies—or, at the very least, the lead role in this one. Better luck next time, Jamie.

Jumper seems to want to beg the question: What would you do if you could teleport anywhere? Bored, I focused on other, more pressing questions: Who, exactly, determined there was a market for another gimmicky action thriller starring Hayden Christensen? How do such people have millions of dollars to spend? Why is this wannabe Darth Vader still in my life? Sure, teleporting to London or Paris would be fun, but I spent most of the movie wishing I could “jump” over to a screening of There Will Be Blood.

Frustratingly, Jumper leaves the door open for a sequel. I stopped caring about Christensen’s arrogant melancholy after 30 seconds of his unnecessary opening monologue, and the thought of another Jumper depresses me to no end. Studio executives, I offer you a guarantee: Give us a movie in which Jackson can truly atone for participating in the abominable Star Wars prequels by enacting painful on-screen revenge on George Lucas and Hayden Christensen. It will be a hit and probably a better movie than this piece of idiocy.