Casting is crucial to the success of a film. Just ask anyone who suffered through 2006’s god-awful (no pun intended) remake of The Omen. While audiences could live with Liev Schreiber as the Gregory Peck replacement - barely - in the modern day Antichrist thriller, Julia Stiles sunk every scene she was in. Like a teen mother trying to play grown up in a world where the rules of engagement are beyond her brief years, she diluted the danger in all facets of the copycat creep out. The same thing happens in the new sci-fi stinker Jumper. Between a bafflingly bad Hayden Christensen and a Stiles-like Rachel Bilson as his romantic interest, we wind up with fiction more specious than speculative.
One day, a teenage David Rice learns two very hard life lessons. One is that, no matter how hard he tries, hot chick Millie is a difficult amorous pursuit. The other is that he can actually teleport. Leaving his abusive father and the no man’s land of Ann Arbor, Michigan behind, our hero heads to the big city, robs a bank, and begins his life as a jet setting jerkwad. Fast forward eight years and an elite group of investigators, led by the white haired hitman Roland, are trying to track David. They don’t really care about the robberies or high living. They want to destroy his special gift - and him along with it. With the help of fellow ‘jumper’ Griffin, and a reconnection with his adolescent crush, David hopes to escape the squad’s evil clutches - even if it means taking the battle across time and space.
Jumper is junk, a halfway decent premise destroyed by some of the worst hiring choices in the history of motion picture personnel. In a realm which sees Michael Rooker, Diane Lane, Samuel L. Jackson, and an unrecognizable Tom Hulce as an afterthought, we get a trio of talent that’s one-third winning. Only Billy Elliot‘s Jamie Bell inspires any interest. His character crackles the way the others stumble and fall. The rest of the triptych is indeed downright poisonous. Christensen proves he’s the worst actor working today by turning David into a one note non-entity. He’s so uninvolving that even terminal insomniacs find his efforts snooze-inducing.
But it’s nothing compared to OC cupie dolt Bilson. Looking like a bad computer photo reconstruction of what Maxim thinks is attractive, and using her open eyed performance style for everything from happiness to hurt, she’s wish fulfillment as the walking dead, a plot point that can’t payoff because we could care less what happens to her. She shares no chemistry with her costar (not that Christensen could combine scientifically or sensually with any breathing human) and constantly reminds us of how hackneyed the overall approach to this project is. Something with this large a scope needs actors of equal size. Bilson and Christensen are incredibly small community college thespians at best.
Yet there are other issues here besides the hired help. Liman never lets the movie’s mythos work for him. We get one of the most convoluted ‘us vs. them’ set ups ever, a situation that hasn’t been relevant since the Knights Templar took on The Priore of Zion to protect Da Vinci’s load. Of course, Jumper treats it all like a very special installment of Highlander. Granted, a rivalry between ethically unsound teleporters and the paladins’ religious zealotry (they destroy these gifted individuals because only “God” should wield such power - like the decision on who lives or who dies, right?) reeks of a bad period piece, but Liman has been known to rise above routine material before. Here, he just skips the ideology all together.
This makes Jumper a very superficial ride, one that doesn’t do much more than expand on the whole bi-location concept - and then it telegraphs every idea before it arrives. When Griffin “jumps” a car along the streets of Tokyo, we know that’s going to come back and play a part in the conclusion. Similarly, a statement about an individual’s attempt to move an entire building is nothing but more forced foreshadowing. Liman apparently doesn’t care that everything plays passive. As a director, he never gets the weight behind the events, instead relying on flash and occasional handheld camera chaos to sell the spectacle. A moment when a British double decker bus threatens Jackson should be an iconic eye popper. Instead, it comes across as a sloppy CGI experiment.
It’s the kind of thing that happens time and time again here. Griffin and David battle over a detonator, bounding off the side of a skyscraper and fighting in freefall. Yet the minute they leap, the effect seems fake. And since Liman is using a quick cut editing style to suggest tension, the visuals are rendered pedestrian at best. Jumper should look like an epic, sequences highlighting the cosmic consequence of people randomly relocating around the planet. Besides, the novel by Steven Gould gave David a more heroic bent. Sure, he participated in criminal activities. But he also thwarted hijackers and other agents of evil along the way. Here, he’s just a materialistic moron, more concerned with sexual conquest and buckets of krugerrands than world events.
And why just Earth? Why would an individual with the ability to teleport anywhere reserve their abilities to this particular planet? Instead of gathering more greenbacks, David should be stealing suits from NASA and running around the galaxy looking for extraterrestrials, or at the very least, a broader set of individual horizons. The self-centered egotism exhibited by our lead (and in some small ways, by the paladin killing Griffin) suggests that Jumper knows its equally selfish fan base all too well. Instead of helping the human race, it’s clear your typical geek squad would simply streak over to the Skywalker Ranch and hobnob with their buddy George - or better yet, rob the filmmaker blind.
The lack of clarity combined with the horrendous onscreen talent turns Jumper from a film with potential to a Sci-Fi Channel direct-to-DVD special. Its imagination and drive is buried in a bumbling sense of narrative which never knows how to handle its thrills, and when combined with the unclear elements in the fantastical, the whole scenario sinks. There is clearly a kernel of intrigue at the center of this story. Too bad Liman, and the lamentable choices he made for his cast, completely derail Jumper’s prospects.