Jan 2, 2020
Doug Liman’s Jumper stars Hayden Christensen and Rachel Bilson, and is loosely based on the 1992 novel of the same name by Steven Gould, about a teenager who discovers he has the ability to teleport anywhere in the world. The premise is not particularly original, but it has plenty of potential, and the filmmakers have definitely put a lot of effort into making the act of teleporting look convincing and dynamic. But the fast-paced visuals and a few fun action scenes aren’t enough to overcome a cliched, underdeveloped story and two hopelessly bland lead actors.
As Jumper begins, the audience is introduced to a Michigan kid named David Rice (Max Thieriot), who seems painfully shy and an outcast among his peers. David suddenly gets a burst of courage which he uses to present his crush Millie (AnnaSophia Robb) with a snow globe of the Eiffel Tower. Although she’s taken with the present, the glory is short-lived, as a bully throws the globe out onto a frozen river. David stupidly walks out onto the ice to retrieve the globe, and as anyone could see coming, the ice breaks and he’s trapped in the frigid waters.
But just as it looks like he’s a goner, he suddenly vanishes from the river and materializes in his local library, along with several gallons of displaced water that drenches the stacks.
Unsure of what happened to him, David heads home to his neglectful father, with a flashback revealing how David’s mom (Diane Lane) abandoned him when he was five. As an argument ensues between father and son over the watery mess David made coming in, he locks himself in his room and then instantly finds himself back at the library again.
David soon figures out that he has the power to teleport, and he plans to use his new ability to get as far away from his abusive father as possible. Though, not before hopping over to Milie’s doorstep to leave the snow globe behind as the only sign he didn’t drown in the river.
David then checks into a motel in the seedy part of town, and begins teaching himself how to use his powers. Eventually, he starts using his abilities purely for financial gain: we see him teleport into a multitude of bank vaults at night, helping himself to huge piles of cash.
Fast forward eight years, and David is now Hayden Christensen and living the good life in a New York City penthouse. He also seems to be living an exceedingly lazy life, as he teleports himself around his apartment instead of walking the few steps from bed to kitchen (though, who among us hasn’t wished they also had the power to teleport over to where they left the remote?). With the money he’s stolen, he’s managed to pass himself off as a rich businessman, and he uses his powers to go on all sorts of thrilling excursions around the world, taking special delight in setting up a folding lawn chair and eating a hoagie on top of the Sphinx.
But then it seems his bank jobs are finally catching up to him when he gets a visit from Roland Cox (Samuel L. Jackson), who at first passes himself off as NSA, but proves to be something else entirely. He pulls out a weapon that sends electrical currents through David and inhibits his jumping ability. David is stunned and confused, but he manages to grab some cash and escape.
He leaves behind the photos that cover the walls of his apartment, which show all the places he’s teleported to. Apparently, David needs to visualize a place to jump there, and without the photos, he’s forced to jump to the one place that he knows all too well: his childhood bedroom.
He avoids being seen by his father and takes off, but since he’s in back in Michigan, he decides to go see his old crush Millie. She’s now working as a bartender and being played by Rachel Bilson, and is weirdly blasé about running into the guy she last saw drowning in a river eight years ago. Even weirder is how after a single, brief conversation, he offers to take her to Rome, and she takes him up on it. But he chooses not to reveal his abilities to her, meaning they have to hop on a plane to get there.
And so, instead of David trying to figure out who Roland is or why people might be after him, the plot goes on a fifteen-minute hiatus while David and Millie do some romantic sightseeing in Rome. They attempt to visit the Coliseum, but are told it’s closed, so David covertly jumps his way in to find a back entrance. This is where he runs into another jumper named Griffin (Jaime Bell), who explains to David that his constant jumping has made him a target of a faction called the “Paladins”, of which Roland is a member. And wouldn’t you know it, they get attacked by a group of Paladins at that very moment.
The two jumpers win the fight, but a Paladin is killed during the skirmish and David is arrested for murder. While in custody, he inexplicably gets a visit from his mother. Totally appearing out of the blue after twenty years, she gives him the key to his handcuffs and then walks out. David escapes and soon puts Millie on the first flight back to the States.
David then tracks down Griffin again. They jump to what’s apparently his secret desert lair, where Griffin explains that the Paladins are some sort of religious cult on a crusade to kill all jumpers, because they believe “only God should have the power to be anywhere”.
Roland and the rest of the Paladins continue their manhunt for the two jumpers, and soon they go after David’s dad and then Millie to lure David out of hiding. Also, they’ve suddenly got a brand new device that allows them to pass through the “jump scars” left behind by jumpers and follow them wherever they go.
The climax of the film is a pretty cool fight between the Paladins and the jumpers, with all the various players teleporting back and forth between the desert lair and Millie’s apartment and all sorts of scenic locations around the world. Finally, the Paladins get David tied up in electrified restraints, with a bomb set to go off in Millie’s apartment. And so David summons all of his energy to teleport the entire apartment into the same river where he almost drowned. He then finds even more strength and jumps Millie over to safety in the library, then jumps Roland to a remote cave and leaves him there, and Samuel L. just looks mildly annoyed at his predicament.
With all the turmoil over, David takes time to patch things up with Millie. He also pays a visit to his mother, who’s living with her new family, including a daughter played briefly by a pre-Twilight Kristen Stewart. David’s mom explains that she’s actually a Paladin, and she had to either leave him, or kill him. But she grants him a head start to get away, and David and Millie casually jump away like they’re headed for an awesome vacation destination.
While it’s obvious a lot of thought was put into the teleportation effects, and they’re pretty great when they actually happen, the script itself seems like it could have used a few more revisions.
Reportedly, in the source novel, David is on the run from more run-of-the-mill law enforcement agencies; the Paladins aren’t even in the book, and it shows in how vaguely defined they are. All we find out about them is they’re some sort of globetrotting cult-like organization with all kinds of expensive, high-tech gear. But who’s funding them? Is a government sponsoring them? An early scene shows them apprehending a jumper in Brazil and stabbing him to death; how do Paladins get away with straight-up murdering people?
And the Brazilian jumper is the only jumper we see other than David and Griffin. We never get an inkling of how many jumpers there are in the world, and it could be anywhere from a dozen to a million for all we know. Why have none of them ever gone public with their abilities? It seems like their existence should be common knowledge by now, especially since the movie hints that Paladins and jumpers have been warring for centuries (but even that I’m not entirely sure of).
Doug Liman cut his teeth directing action movies like The Bourne Identity and Mr. and Mrs. Smith, and when the action gets going, the movie almost shows signs of a pulse. But there’s just not enough of it to salvage a clichéd story starring two boring actors. Hayden Christensen puts on the same whiny, spoiled brat act he did when playing Anakin Skywalker, but frankly, he looks like Sir Laurence Olivier opposite Rachel Bilson, who sucks the life out of every scene she’s in. The two have absolutely no chemistry, which is bizarre, because in real life they’ve been a couple ever since they made this film, and they recently (as in, just a few days ago) had a baby girl together.
Supposedly, the two leads were recast just a few weeks before filming began. The original David and Millie were to be played by Tom Sturridge and Teresa Palmer, but then the studio decided at the last minute that they wanted a bigger name (and older actors) to carry their $85 million film. So I’m guessing these two were cast because with such short notice, the filmmakers didn’t have a whole lot of options. And while having Samuel L. Jackson and Jaime Bell (best known for Billy Elliot) in the cast could have been points in the movie’s favor, the movie just doesn’t give them a whole lot to do.
The only positive element of this movie is how they had to do a lot of location shooting to properly depict David’s jumps around the globe. So at least you get to see the world in this movie, but that isn’t saying a lot, since there are probably plenty of YouTube travelogue videos that will better satisfy your wanderlust.
What’s really frustrating about the story is how David takes his gift for granted. Instead of using his abilities to grow and learn, make the world a better place, investigate where he got his powers from, or even just figure out where his mom went, he mainly uses teleportation to pick up strange girls, rob banks, and stay disconnected from other people. You’d think someone like this would have a huge network of acquaintances on every continent, but David mostly just hangs with strangers.
The movie tries to convince us that underneath it all, David is a good guy, including tidbits like how when he robs a bank, he always leaves a note telling the bank he’ll pay them back. But does he? It doesn’t seem like it, judging by his apartment and his huge stacks of money.
Also, the movie tries to contrast David’s behavior with Griffin, who seems to have no compunction about killing his Paladin enemies. But then the movie undercuts that point early on; before heading out for a day of pleasure-jumping, David watches a TV news report about people trapped in a flood, where a reporter proclaims that only a miracle could save them. But instead of cutting to David plucking those desperate people out of the water, we just see him smirk and head off to London. Was the film deliberately trying to make him look like a self-involved jackass, or did a crucial scene end up on the cutting room floor?
Also, I have no proof that Kristen Stewart was stoned during the filming of her scene, but it sure seems like it. Even though she’s onscreen for less than a minute, her mouth-breathing performance on its own takes the movie down a few notches for me.
Jumper is mostly an hour and a half of loose ends that fumble together to make what passes for a movie, and I can’t think of a single reason anyone should bother with this one. If you want a story about a kid discovering he was born with amazing powers that make him a persecuted freak, just watch an X-Men movie or something. Those movies even have their own guy who can teleport and everything! There’s just no point in wasting 90 minutes of your life on Christensen and Bilson out-blanding each other.