The advantages of teleportation are easily imagined. Gifted with the ability to vanish in one place and instantly appear in another, you could watch the sun rise over the Sahara, knock back a morning croissant in Paris, catch a few waves in Sydney and still be in Tokyo in time for lunch. Clearly, this sort of cosmopolitan time-crunching could be the basis for a fun movie. Unfortunately, “Jumper” is not that film.
The picture is based on a 1992 sci-fi novel by Steven Gould, the plot of which has been considerably pumped up by director Doug Liman (“The Bourne Identity”) and writer David S. Goyer (“Batman Begins”). In outline, it still sounds like fun. A young man named David Rice (Hayden Christensen), deserted by his mother at age 5 and ever since oppressed by his ill-tempered father (Michael Rooker), discovers he can “jump” from one place to another, anywhere in the world. In a fit of liberation, he jumps to New York and teleports himself into a bank vault, out of which he then teleports many bags of cash. Cool.
David starts using his newfound peripatetic powers to pay lightning visits to London, Egypt, the South Pacific. Along the way, he’s spotted by another such frequent flier, a flinty English kid called Griffin (Jamie Bell). Griffin comes bearing backstory. He explains that the two of them are members of a tribe of Jumpers who’ve been hopping around the world throughout history, pursued relentlessly by an evil brotherhood of Paladins bent on their destruction. Why, you ask? Don’t ask. The head Paladin here is Roland, played by Samuel L. Jackson in a hairstyle of surpassing silliness. (It looks like a swatch of Astroturf after a light snowfall.) Roland’s beef with Jumpers is a little vague (“Only God should have this power”), but he’s a doer, not a thinker, and he carries a 1,000-volt shock prod with which to disable these freaks’ unholy abilities. (How? How?)
David also has a girlfriend named Millie (Rachel Bilson), whose function, apart from being pretty, is mainly to be imperiled. And putting in occasional appearances is his mom (Diane Lane), who has an unexpected explanation for her long absence from his life. Fine.
None of this ever quite rises to the level of interesting, however. The picture is transparently intended to be the first installment of a franchise, much like, say, “The Bourne Identity.” Gould has already written a sequel called “Reflex” and an origin story devoted to Griffin, and I’d not be surprised if he were beavering away on another tome at this very moment. Liman no doubt intends to clarify some of the film’s hazy plot elements (the Jumpers’ purpose, for example) in the sequel. Right now, though, they’re just hazy, and thus annoying. The movie has plenty of action, but much of it is graceless and incoherent. (A long sequence set in the Rome Colosseum is especially labored.) And while a lot of money has clearly been spent on digital effects (most notably when the Jumpers start teleporting buses and buildings), they’re oddly lacking in imaginative resonance — they barrel past us without sweeping us up.
The movie’s sputtering inconsequence is especially surprising considering the caliber of the performers involved. But Jackson is once again simply the Badass Sam with whom we’re so familiar, and Lane is once more pitifully underutilized. (She’d surely play a better-defined part in any sequel, but that’s no help to her here.) And Christensen, who’s been so impressive in films like “Shattered Glass” and “Factory Girl,” just seems miscast — he’s too inward and slyly ironic to be an action-badass himself. He’s in the wrong movie. And, as quickly becomes apparent, so are we.
Check out everything we’ve got on “Jumper.”
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