by Mel Valentin
Imagine if you could be anywhere at any time. Imagine if you could take anything you wanted without consequences, legal or otherwise. Imagine if you woke up one day or, in a moment of existential danger, a superpower, your own, saved you. Sounds like any one of many superhero comics by DC or Marvel, doesnít it? On closer inspection that ďbe anywhere at any timeĒ premise (teleportation to you and me) describes one of Marvelís X-Men characters, Nightcrawler. It also describes the central character in Steven Gouldís 1992 teen-centric novel and now, sixteen years later, Doug Limanís ("Mr. & Mrs. Smith," "The Bourne Identity," "Go," "Swingers"), first film in three years, "Jumper," a science fiction/adventure/romance film thatís every bit as muddled as mixing and matching disparate genre elements suggests.Jumper starts off with possibly the worst narrative device imaginable, redundant voiceover narration. Rather than show us who David Rice (Christensen) is or how he arrived at his current station in life, we get Riceís deadpanning narration cluing slow or inattentive moviegoers about his past, which runs something like this: at fifteen, David (Max Thieriot), a loner Michigan kid with an abusive father, William (Michael Rooker), and a mother, Mary (Diane Lane), who left him and his father when he was five, and a crush on one of his classmates, Millie (AnnaSophia Robb). A near fatal accident, however, awakens his teleportation power. He can transport himself by simply imagining a location. Power discovered, David leaves Michigan for New York City where, self-centered and selfish, he funds an opulent, self-indulgent lifestyle.
"With great power comes great...wait, wrong movie."
What the twenty-something Rice (Christensen again) doesnít realize, however, is that a centuries-old secret society, the Paladins, has tracked and executed other jumpers. Religious zealots all, the Paladins see jumpers as unnatural abominations, inherently evil. One leader of the Paladins, Roland (Samuel L. Jackson), tracks Rice to his New City apartment. Barely escaping with his life, Rice flees to Michigan and his hometown, Ann Arbor. Discovering that Millie (Rachel Bilson) still lives and works in Ann Arbor, Rice looks her up. Almost immediately, Rice invites Millie to Rome, a city sheís always hoped to visit. In Rome, however, Rice learns that heís not alone. Another jumper, Griffin (Jamie Bell), reveals himself, just in time for a confrontation with several Paladins in the Roman Coliseum. Roland, of course, isnít far behind.
Jumper more or less borrows Peter Parker/Spider-Manís character arc and the oft-quoted line, ďWith great power comes great responsibility.Ē Rice sees his powers as something to be exploited for his personal use, not something that could be used for the benefit of others. Surrounding himself with luxury goods, expensive clothes, and, presumably, a plethora of one-night stands with beautiful, if vacuous, women, isnít particularly satisfying. If Riceís life was fulfilling on some level, then weíd have no story and, thus, no film. Itís not (please hold all yawns until the end of this review) until Rice returns to Michigan and romance comes his way that he begins to think about someone else. From there, he undergoes a transformation of sorts, until heís finally able to take on all that responsibility and slip into spandex (okay, that last part isnít true, but it might as well be true).
Once Jumper gets past introducing Rice, his background, and the other characters, it moves at a frantic, frenetic pace. Liman assembles a rapid succession of set pieces, with less and less time for dialogue or exposition (a good thing, actually), before sending movies off with the promise of not one, but two sequels (well, maybe). But thatís where all the goodness ends thanks (or, to be more accurate, no thanks) to a screenplay written, rewritten by three credited writers, David S. Goyer Batman Begins, the Blade trilogy, Jim Uhls (Fight Club), and Simon Kinberg (X-Men: The Last Stand, Mr. & Mrs. Smith), all of whom worked on Jumper separately. One of them certainly bears responsibility for the awkward, stilted voiceover narration, the choppy beginning that starts in media res only to stop, flash back to Rice at fifteen, before jumping forward again to pick up the story. And all three bear responsibility for a dumbed down, plot first, character second storyline that offers little in the way of dramatic revelations or emotion-tugging moments to counterbalance the admittedly impressive visual effects.Unfortunately, "Jumper" sequels might be in our future. "Jumper" leaves the larger conflict between the Jumpers and the Paladins unresolved, so it doesnít take much effort to imagine "Jumper" as the first film in a trilogy. Whether "Jumper II" makes it into theaters two or three years from now, of course, depends on how well "Jumper" does financially. A $100,000,00 (or more) take at the box office, with similar or better numbers overseas will, if not guarantee a sequel, make one much more likely. Setting box office expectations aside, Liman needs screenwriters willing to take a few more chances for the next film and the one after that. And since Liman doesnít seem to know when and how to use voiceover narration, he should resist the urge (or someone should for him) to use it again, either in the "Jumper" sequels or anything else he directs.
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originally posted: 02/14/08 19:24:37