First off, I have to say I’m not a big Doug Liman fan. I don’t dislike his work, but while everyone was raving over Mr. & Mrs. Smith, I was underwhelmed by what I saw as a loud and glossy, yet ultimately hollow remake of Prizzi’s Honor. When I heard he was directing an adaptation of Steven Gould’s excellent teleportation novel, Jumper, I was intrigued. The novel deals with terrorism and personal responsibility in a dramatic and complex way that is more relevant in today’s post-9/11 reality than it was when first published in 1992. This could well be gold in the hands of the man who gave us The Bourne Identity.
This bright optimism lasted a full 15 minutes into the film’s 88-minute run time. Dear lord in heaven, what a mess. After that first 15 minutes or so, Liman veers away from the source material, never to return, and with the source material goes any sense of logic or cohesion to the story.
In all honesty, a film version need not be faithful to the original novel to be good. For every movie that is as faithfully brilliant as William Goldman’s The Princess Bride there are a dozen that fail spectacularly, like Millennium, based on the excellent John Varley novel of the same name. To see what can be accomplished by ignoring the source material, look no further than the James Bond series of films. Simply put, a good movie stands on its own, regardless of whether there’s a good book backing it up.
Jumper is not a good movie. It’s not awful, either. "Beautiful mediocrity" is probably the most apt description, as the movie is lavishly filmed. The cinematography is breathtaking. The scenes are very stylish and the action is dazzling and in-your-face. Beyond that, its failings are many fold. David Rice (played by Hayden Christensen) is the product of a broken home. His mother abandoned him as a young boy, and he was raised by an alcoholic father. During a life-threatening bullying incident, the young David discovers he can teleport. Seizing the opportunity, David allows the community to think he is dead, and sets off to build a new life for himself.
It’s at this point the narrative jumps the tracks. David fuels a lavish lifestyle with daring bank robberies, stealing at will without tripping any alarms. He’s carefree and arrogant, something of a self-spoiled brat that remains a self-centered prick throughout the remainder of the movie. Seriously. David casually flips through television reports of disaster victims he could easily help, but can’t be bothered to because it’d disrupt his dinner plans in London or Sydney or wherever.
He has no empathy for others at the beginning of the movie, and there is nothing noble or just about his actions in the finale. He still acts solely out of petulant self-interest. When the Paladin leader Roland (Samuel L. Jackson) arrives to kill David, justifying such a course of action because David doesn’t deserve such power, that he can’t live as he does without consequences, the words ring truer the more we get to see of David’s true personality.
Honestly, has there ever been a stupider person in cinematic history? The first thing David does upon discovering he’s being hunted by an ancient, psychotic cult that believes he’s an abomination to be destroyed is to go back to his home town, teleport an old enemy into a secured bank vault and hook up with an old flame for a weekend in Rome. David lays down a trail so obvious Inspector Clouseau could have him cornered inside of 30 minutes.
That’d be a short film, however, so another jumper, the Irish Griffin (played by Jamie Bell with roguish charm) pops up to follow David around, rescue David from the Paladins, explain the plot to the audience as well as David (David’s a moron, remember?) and then fight with David for no good reason. They fight a lot. They also reference Marvel Team-Ups a lot and voice mutual hatred for Roland, but mostly they fight.
Griffin is annoying, in an amusing sort of way, wandering in and out of the film without having any real impact on the resolution. That character is actually the subject of the lone media tie-in to this movie, the novel Jumper: Griffin's Story, also penned by Steven Gould. Also better than the movie. Listen up, kids: If a movie tie-in is better than the actual movie, you’ve entered serious red-flag territory.
Everything else is just plain silly, starting with Roland’s ludicrous white hair. The Paladins are a quasi-religious cult tracing its roots back millennia, and cut from whole cloth in the process. They hunt jumpers because that’s what they do. If you’re looking for any deeper understanding of Paladins, how a non-governmental agency can operate so far outside of the law, killing and maiming innocent people in the pursuit of jumpers while bankrolling an operation to the tune of millions, if not billions, of dollars, don’t look here.
(Question: If jumpers are so hard to kill even with all the uber-tech the Paladins have at their disposal, why didn’t the jumpers simply wipe out their Paladin tormenters any time in the last thousand years or so before such nifty gadgets tilted the balance of power?). And the great Diane Lane is utterly wasted in a glorified cameo that is as melodramatic as it is deus ex machina.
As disappointing as the movie is, the extras included almost make up for it. An interesting addition is an “animated graphic novel” which uses Flash animation to give the viewers a little additional background on David as he searches for his maternal grandparents in the time between when he leaves home in the movie and starts living the jet-set life.
It’s not exactly gripping storytelling, and the sparse animation is reminiscent of 1960s Marvel animated fare, but it’s an interesting experiment nonetheless.
Whereas most DVDs would trot out a “Making Of” featurette, Jumper goes the extra mile with four -- count ‘em, four -- “Making Of” sequences. One is the standard behind-the-scenes footage, and the second is a travelogue of all the exotic locales the production trekked to in order to sell the idea that David literally can jump anywhere.
A third showcases all the special effects work that went into creating the teleportation effects (among other things) for the dazzling jump sequences, but for my money the most fascinating featurette is “Jumping From Novel to Film: The Past, Present and Future of Jumper.” It’s really quite revealing. Liman, for example, casually explains that writer David Goyer’s original script retained the terrorist element from Gould’s novel, but that Liman felt that approach “too conventional” and instead brought in another writer to replace the terrorists with Paladins.
It’s apparent the filmmakers have a tremendous amount of affection for the property, as references to a second and even third movie in the series abound. Liman constantly hints at “great ideas” saved for future films, and the writers talk about a story that plays out over three movies. Repeated references to comic books and jumpers as superheroes also give pretty telling insight into the mindset they had as they approached the material.
The deleted scene segments are interesting, although it’s clear from watching them why they failed to make the cut in the final film. Interestingly enough, several of the excised sequences plug little continuity gaps that mar the final film. In light of the filmmakers’ vocal hopes to produce additional films in the Jumper universe, the final bonus feature, “Previz: Future Concepts,” is doubly intriguing. On the surface, it’s a simple animatic, a computer-generated walk-through of an action scene.
But this isn’t an action scene that takes place in Jumper. In the four-plus minute run-through, two jumpers (presumably David and Griffin) pretty much destroy a federal building while battling Paladins, a no-holds-barred donnybrook that takes the fisticuffs undersea and ultimately to the moon. The angular characters are difficult to keep track of, and it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, but it plays out pretty nifty as an animatic so one can only assume a finished product would be suitably spectacular.
Jumper, ultimately, is a movie that tries very hard and falls short on all counts. Every opportunity it has to develop character, it instead opts for cliche. Every chance for relevance is ditched in favor of flash and dazzle. Logic is ignored in light of pretty location shots. All in all, Jumper isn’t that much different from Mr. & Mrs. Smith, and more’s the pity.
The Movie Itself: 5 out of 10
The DVD Features: 8 out of 10