Jumper (2008) / Sci Fi-Thriller
MPAA Rated: PG-13 for violence, some language and brief sexuality
Running Time: 88 min.
Cast: Hayden Christensen, Samuel L. Jackson, Rachel Bilson, Jamie Bell, Michael Rooker, Diane Lane, Max Thierot, AnnaSophia RObb, Kristen Stewart, Tom Hulce
Director: Doug Liman
Screenplay: David S. Goyer, Jim Uhls, Simon Kinberg (based on the book by Steven Gould)
My advice to studios: don't plan for a trilogy when you can't even get the first film developed thoroughly.
This is what happens when a good idea gets studio-botched by too many people with their own particular visions of what the film should be about. The original script was written by David S. Goyer, the screenwriter responsible for several superhero films like Batman Begins and the Blade films. Then it fell into a rewrite by Jim Uhls (Fight Club) when the studio wanted to turn this into the first of a trilogy, and later, another rewrite by producer Simon Kinberg (X-Men The Last Stand, xXx: State of the Union), after Samuel L. Jackson (1408, Resurrecting the Champ) signed on. Hayden Christensen (Revenge of the Sith, Shattered Glass) ends up being a last minute replacement for its star Thomas Sturridge, who thought they needed a more recognizable actor in the lead.
Quite loosely based on the juvenile fiction sci-fi novel by Steven Gould, Jumper tells the tale of David Rice (Christensen), who as a boy of 15, discovers he has the uncanny ability to teleport himself using his mind. He uses this power to run away from a broken household and abusive father (Rooker, Undisputed), utilizing his ability to get himself in and out of banks with bags full of cash. His activity draws the attention of Roland (Jackson), a white-haired agent in an organization of quasi-religious anti-Jumpers called Paladins, who uses his law enforcement status to weed out and exterminate those he deems have abilities that are in defiance of God. Now that David has amassed riches, he finds it's time to revisit his childhood sweetheart, Millie (Bilson, "The O.C."), in order to take her on her dream vacation of Rome, where no sooner is she wooed than the creep factor of his gift emerges. Worse, the Paladins get their Jumper prey by kidnapping or killing the family and friends of the Jumpers to root them out, which puts Millie high on the list of potential bait.
Given the run time of less than 90 minutes, and also given that three credible screenwriters names are attached, along with a proven director in Doug Liman (Mr. and Mrs. Smith, The Bourne Identity), my intuition tells me that expository information was contained within, but poor screenings caused the studio to get anxious that a dud was on their hands. Generally, the idea is to push for a big opening weekend with good marketing techniques, then cutting the film under 90 minutes, which generally means you can get in one more showing per theater per day, resulting in potential increased profits before word-of-mouth trashes your flick. Unfortunately, even though the film could have been deemed as bad or confusing even with some sort of explanation as to how or why young men get Jumper powers, and why they are being slaughtered by a super secret organization, it certainly would go a long distance to making the film much less of a head scratcher for everyone.
In a film that asks for a great deal of disbelief suspension, the one thing I found impossible to swallow is that Jumpers have existed for centuries without anyone knowing about them. Given that Jumpers are practically unaware of the existence of others like themselves, it's not like they are sworn to secrecy. We see about three Jumpers in the film itself, with the two prominent ones performing all manner of feats in front of the eyes of many eyewitnesses. Buses are flown, structures suffer major damages, and people are strewn about willy-nilly, -- many of which are in high-security areas where there would likely be security cameras, like bank vaults, airports and world monuments -- and yet, we're supposed to believe that only the Paladins have caught wind that there is something unfathomably bizarre going on?
Christensen has received his share of jeers over the years for his portrayal of Anakin Skywalker in the much-maligned Star Wars prequels, but I'm one of the minority who likes his ability to convey a morally bankrupt train wreck who means well, but his flaws get the best of him. The problem with his character in Jumper is that we don't really get a feel for the guy or why he does what he does before we're whisked away to his world and the beauty and deadliness his powers bring him. True, he does go back to a girl he once had a schoolboy crush on, but after one day with her on a plane and the Coliseum, he has lied to her repeatedly about who he is and where he has gotten a sack full of cash. Millie has never really gotten to know David all along, and even after hours together, the two are supposed to be in the midst of a whirlwind romance, and yet it never quite gels. Perhaps it's because the characters are so cookie-cutter that we're to believe that a girl would willingly go along on a European trip the same day she spies a guy she used to know in school eight years before without so much as a regular conversation. Samuel L. Jackson is given little to do other than look like a bad-ass. In his defense, his performance requires little skill to deliver, but little effort is put forward to make anything more out of it.
An intriguing premise, special effects and Liman's propensity for slick direction are all that Jumper has going for it, and given the redundant nature of all three facets, it's just not enough to coast to the 90-minute mark. If a "Director's Cut" DVD were to ever emerge with a half hour more that would explain just what's behind the Jumper phenomenon, the Paladin counter group, and with more time given to co-stars who would normally have gotten much more screen time (Diane Lane (Hollywoodland, Must Love Dogs), Kristin Stewarrt (The Messengers, Zathura), and AnnaSophia Robb (The Reaping, Bridge to Terabithia) have performances that probably ended up largely on the cutting room floor), then perhaps I might give the flick a second chance. As it stands, Jumper is much like the protagonist at the heart of the film, jumping with lightning quickness and a great deal of noise from point to point, never stopping to allow anyone the courtesy of familiarity before making a brief appearance in the next sumptuous, eye-candy locale.
©2008 Vince Leo