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February 20, 2008

FILM REVIEW: ‘Jumper’ Misses the Mark


By Nathaniel Shockey

The problem with “Jumper,” or at least one of them, is that it doesn’t succeed as an action movie or a sci-fi movie, and it definitely doesn’t deliver as a piece of drama.


Movies should not be judged exclusively by how they fit a genre, as there are many movies that cannot be categorized. The best movies fit into more than one.


I’m not exactly sure what “Jumper” was aiming for, but it missed its mark. The movie hinged on the novelty of teleportation, which could have worked, but there were too many distractingly negative points.


The movie’s premise is that there are people who can teleport – called jumpers – and there are people chasing them, called paladin. The movie did not explain where the term “paladin” came from, so I looked it up, and it apparently referred to high-ranking officials, sometimes of the imperial guard, or protectors, as far back as the Roman Empire. This would have been an interesting piece of information to include, but all the audience got was one sentence about the fact that this battle between jumpers and the paladin has gone as far back as “medieval times,” which seemed incredibly arbitrary.


We follow around David Rice (Hayden Christensen), as he develops from a kid whose mom left him at the age of five to a high school student who has a crush on a girl, until he realizes he has the talent of teleportation. There is a scene in a park, during which he is attempting to harness his newfound power reminiscent of Tobey McGuire in Spiderman. The difference was that the Spiderman scene was so ridiculous that it was kind of funny. The Jumper scene, on the other hand, was neither humorous nor to be taken seriously.


The paladin are led by a man named Roland, played by Samuel L. Jackson. His explanation for chasing down jumpers, which he offers twice, is that only God should have the ability they have. Here is the problem. If you’re going to offer an explanation for hunting down teleporters in order to electrocute and stab them, and your reason is summed up by nothing more than the mantra “only God should have that ability,” it would be tremendously more engaging to know more about the person maintaining it. We either need more or less.


In a movie like “There Will Be Blood” (and I feel somewhat blasphemous even comparing the two, but bear with me), we get very little explanation as to why the primary character is the way he is. He just is, and it’s fine. But if you choose to explain the extreme actions of a character, it does not work to go halfway. The audience is not affected by a one-sentence explanation from a killer we barely know. We just sit there thinking, “OK, so when’s the next action scene?”


The action scenes were the best part of the movie, not because they were good, but because it’s interesting watching a guy being chased by someone who wants to kill him. The problem is that the action scenes lean so heavily on special effects that they seem to forget the importance of being graspable. Things move so rapidly – from teleporting, to punching to getting thrown off a rock in the Coliseum – it is nearly impossible to follow and react. It would seem to be hard to mess up a scene in the Coliseum, and it starts out nicely, with Rice and Millie (his high school crush, played by Rachel Bilson) simply marveling at the grand sight. But when the action takes over, the moment is pretty much spoiled.


It’s not fair to critique acting when the dialogue is lacking, but Bilson’s performance is weak. One gets the feeling that she has found it difficult to break away from playing “Summer”, the teenager who had no reason to grow up, on “The OC”. She just doesn’t have much of a presence about her, partially because her voice and facial expressions are small, and partially because she is literally tiny – skinny to an unhealthy degree. Christensen is OK, despite the crappy dialogue. And finally, Samuel L. Jackson is just one “I’ve had it with these mother effin’ snakes on this mother effin’ plane” moment away from being ridiculous. The character was plain lousy.


One would expect more from the director of “The Bourne Identity” and “Swingers.” The only thing that could justify this movie is a sequel that gives us a lot more substance. “Kill Bill” did this with the second installment, which completely justified part one. Of course, “Kill Bill, Part 1”, was an awesome movie by itself. “Jumper” isn’t.


If you’re on your couch in a few months and can’t think of anything to see, you might consider renting this movie. But if it were up to me, I’d much rather re-watch “Snakes on a Plane.”


Two Stars Out of Five


© 2008 North Star Writers Group. May not be republished without permission.


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