February 17, 2008

Movie Review: Jumper

Where The Bucket List was something of a travelogue for the geriatric set, Jumper is something of a travelogue for the teen set. That is pretty much what Jumper boils down to. Sure, it has a bit more action than the terminal cancer driven dramedy, but the end result is about the same. That result being disappointment. Something like Jumper could have, should have, been an exhilarating, thrill-a-minute ride. It turned out to be all set up with no pay-off. Not only that, but the build seemed to have been written by a first timer with no sense of pacing or logic. I don't mean to come off quite so cynical, but this could have been so much more than what it is. On the positive side, the effects are well done, and the look is suitably slick. To that end, I was not completely disappointed, if only for the potential it contains that can be re-written and filled in by your own ideas. I guess you could say that Jumper is a cinematic Mad-Lib.

Going in, Jumper was full of promise and wonder. It promised the world, on a modest budget. It presents an epic battle through time and space with the entire planet as its battleground. The plot description tells of a young man who discovers he has the ability to teleport. He uses this ability, at will, to rob banks and build a comfortable life of leisure for himself. The problem is that his using the ability puts him on the radar of a super-secret group, we learn are called Paladins, that is intent on separating our young hero from his life. And so, our hero finds himself in the midst of a war that has raged for ages, just out of view outside the rest of the world.

Sounds good doesn't it? Makes one wonder where it went so wrong. Was it on the writer's page? In the casting? The directing? I cannot believe that it was any one single element, rather a combination of each puzzle piece working in conjunction to craft the perfect storm of circumstance. I am finding it difficult to know how to go about discussing the film without getting dangerously close to spoiler territory, something I am not want to do.

The screenplay is from David S. Goyer (Batman Begins), Jim Uhls (Fight Club), and Simon Kinberg (X-Men 3: The Last Stand), based on a novel by Steven Gould. Was the problem here? I have not read the novel, so I am not sure how close an adaptation this is to say if the problems originated in the source. I will play it safe and say that the problems began in the adaptation, which is a shame as there is considerable talent on this front. The screenplay contains some poor dialogue and does not do anywhere near a good job of delivering any type of exposition. We learn very little of the bigger picture, nor of any personal connections. Whether or not this was a part of earlier script drafts, I do not know, but if there was any vision to the story, it did not make it to the shooting version.

Before shooting can begin a cast must be selected. For the most part, this cast works quite well. Samuel L. Jackson can prove an imposing presence, and he almost does so here. Rachel Bilson, as the love interest, is absolutely adorable and proves to be a decent presence. Then there is Jamie Bell as another jumper named Griffin, he provides a suitably rougish presence that works quite well. Now, the weakest part of the cast is the lead, Hayden Christensen. I think we may have a new big screen 2x4, overtaking the perennial winner Keanu Reeves. His work here is, well, flat is a kind way of putting it. Not once did I believe he was David.

With writing and casting out of the way, we land on direction. Doug Liman fills that role and he brings a good deal of experience on a series of successful films, including Mr. & Mrs. Smith and The Bourne Identity. With those films on his resume, one could safely assume that he would bring that edge of your seat excitement and popcorn munching aesthetic to his latest project. Unfortunately, his skills on past films did not follow him to this one. Jumper is, quite frankly, a mess. There is no sense of direction; scenes jump (sic) from one to another with no sense of flow or reason for being. I have to wonder just what it was that Liman was thinking when shooting the scenes. I cannot believe that this is what he had in mind. Perhaps the editor is to blame?

Jumper's flow is shockingly bad. It is rare to come across a film that has as little internal continuity as this. This is a movie that should be able to trade on the wonder it should induce. It is a movie that has plenty of backstory to trade for audience thrills. What happened? I know I am beginning to sound like a broken record, but it is a valid question.

There is one scene when David returns home to find Samuel L. Jackson's character, Roland, in his apartment. There is a brief talk followed by a big fight, which finds our hero barely escaping with his life. Shortly after this event, meaning immediately following, David returns to his hometown and promptly hooks up with his childhood sweetheart. What? Was something skipped? Are we missing a reel? Seriously, following the events and revelations of your Roland encounter, you think the best thing to do is try and get a date? I have to believe that there would be bigger things on your mind than that.

It is moments like these that reduce the potentially epic plot to a shadow of its potential. Rather than developing the characters and the plot, we are treated to a series of globetrotting set pieces with occasionally suspect effects work. Now, in between these non-connecting scenes add in action whose fast paced editing has no sense of orientation. I guarantee that you won't know which way is up when the fighting starts.

When the end rolls around? The first reaction you'll have is: "That's it?" I know I did. What we get barely scratches the surface of what is there. This was surely done to purposely set up a sequel, but it is not good movie-making.

On the plus side, and there is one, ther are enough plot gaps to allow you to fill in the empty space. This brings us back to the mad-libs reference. Watch what is presented, absorb it, then begin thinking about what is implied and what possibilities it contains and fill in those spaces with your own thoughts about what is happening and what could happen. It makes the shallow film go down a whole lot easier.

Bottomline. No, not a complete loss, and you can easily find worse films to waste your time on, but this could have been so much better. It is a great example of wasted potential. I can only hope that should a sequel move forward that they address the mistakes made with this one. It is at least an enjoyable miscalculation. So, sit back and enjoy the on screen nonsense, and those cool electro-cable gun things.

Very Mildly Recommended.


Anonymous said...

The filming style of Jumper made me feel like i myself was jumping around... very cool. Christensen's lines were as short as possible as well, which made his performance as good as it could be.

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