originally published in the middlebury campus
Jumper, the latest offering from indie-director turned big budget schlock merchant Doug Liman, is a mess. The story, adapted from Steven Gould’s novel, is about David Rice (Hayden Christenson, exuding all the charisma of a bowl of dehydrated potato flakes) who, at the age of thirteen, discovers he can teleport after he falls into a frozen river only to find himself moments later in Ann Arbor, Michigan’s public library. He is a Jumper, part of an elite group of people who can teleport anywhere on the planet. Wait a second; doesn’t that make him a teleporter, though? It really doesn’t matter, this film doesn’t quibble over details (or plot or characters for that matter). Anyway, Jumpers are at war with the Paladins, religious fanatics who will stop at nothing to rid the world of Jumpers. Roland (Samuel L. Jackson) is one of these Paladins. He becomes obsessed with stopping our intrepid young hero, no matter what. That about does it for plot.
I will give Jumper credit for being a little daring with its main character. It doesn’t take the easy way by portraying David as a superhero who feels a need to help others with his remarkable power. In fact the film even jokes at this possibility early on when we are shown a TV report about people being trapped in a flood. David watches this with a coy smile plastered on his mug as he grabs an umbrella and teleports off to London to hook up with a girl he meets in bar, whom he then leaves in the middle of the London night to ensure he is back in his own bed by midnight. What a guy. The problem that presents itself is that this doesn’t quite go far enough. David isn’t mean enough to be an anti-hero, nor is he magnanimous enough to be a hero. He is just a self-centered, bland, brat.
This could be the performance of Hayden Christenson, (proving that it wasn’t entirely George Lucas’ fault the young Darth Vader was a whiny bore) who is so soul crushingly wooden he makes dead trees look lively by comparison. Or the fault might lie in the dialog put into the characters’ mouths. “I don’t need you to tell me everything; just don’t lie to me,” David’s girlfriend (The O.C.’s Rachael Bilson) says with the conviction of an eighth grader reading Macbeth.
In the end, though, the entire film feels flat. As a thriller it doesn’t thrill. The action sequences aren’t particularly exciting because they mostly involve people teleporting away from one another. Liman, whose skill as a director is creating action set pieces, creates action set pieces that lack in action. He fails to build any kind of tension or the sense of mortal danger that is necessary for an action film. If the characters get into trouble the audience knows they can just teleport away. They try to solve this by giving the Paladins electronically charged Billy clubs that render a Jumper unable to teleport, but of course these clubs stop working on our protagonists during the films climax.
The film fails at romance, too. Christenson and Bilson have absolutely zero chemistry. This leaves the audience shifting uncomfortably as the usually vivacious Bilson flounders while valiantly trying to light a spark inside the dullard.
The whole film feels like everyone, stars and filmmakers alike, were sleepwalking through the production. Liman’s pacing is sluggish and the ending feels less like an ending and more like a sigh of futility. Even Samuel L. Jackson, a man who oozes cool out of his pores like sweat, is stiff, awkward, and oddly subdued as he delivers lines like, “There are always consequences,” with laughable seriousness. He doesn’t bring the manic energy necessary to make the part worth remembering. It is a problem that plagues the entire film; no one brings any kind of energy, thus rendering the entire film not worth remembering. Or seeing, for that matter.