Kinda hard to jump with 1000 volts of electricity pulsing through your brain, huh?
— Roland (Samuel L. Jackson)
“I’m standing on top of the world,” announces David (Hayden Christensen). Indeed, he looks it, perched on a series of global monuments during the course of Jumper, from the Sphinx to the Empire State Building to Big Ben. Yes, David is a superheroic boy, impressed with himself and in need of life lessons. “Once I was a normal person, a chump just like you,” he asserts. Now, he’s considerably less interesting, even if he doesn’t know it.
Based on Steven Gould’s science fiction novel, the movie takes David’s point of view as a kind of gospel, though it loses the original’s focus on his abusive dad. Where his father’s threat with a belt initiates the son’s first “jump” in the book, on screen, it’s the schoolboy’s effort to show his affection for a classmate. That’s not to say dad (Michael Rooker) isn’t surly and beer-guzzly; it is to say the young David’s (Max Thieriot) crush on Millie (AnnaSophia Robb) sends him crashing through the surface of a frozen pond in Ann Arbor, whereupon he saves his own life by suddenly teleporting to the library (“Escape to your library,” reads an oh-so-cleverly placed placard on the wall). In the movie, David’s journey is focused on his search for love, both in the mostly mundane form of the girl, but also his mother (Diane Lane), who abandoned him when he was five. (The movie doesn’t detail her relationship with Abusive Dad, instead remaining fixated on David’s utterly banal resentment and yearning.)
Initiated when he realizes he has the capacity to “jump,” David’s journey involves a series of discoveries. Though no one much explains it, apparently the ability to jump is genetically determined, and has existed for hundreds of years, “since medieval times,” at least (just how this is the starting point is unclear). David spends years thinking he’s “the only one,” using his gift in order to benefit himself — jumping out of his childhood bedroom in order to escape his dad, jumping in and out of bank vaults to steal money (he leaves IOUs, for what they’re worth), jumping in and out of exotic locations to pick up girls, surf monster waves, and generally avoid responsibility for anything. When he moves to a beat hotel in NYC, the guy at the desk looks him up and down and guesses he’s not quite straight: “You’re not gonna be any trouble, are you?” asks the clerk. “No weird stuff.” Oh sure, the plainly underage boy assures him. “No weird stuff.”
If only he did offer up some weird stuff. But no, aside from the fake bodily effects — slamming through walls and space and time — jumping only makes David “different” in the most conventional way (see also: X-Man, The Thing, Superboy, Bruce Wayne, et. al.). Indeed, he is so much a “chump like you,” that David carries a torch for Millie (who grows up to be Rachel Bilson), a tedious plot point he narrates when he first leaves town as 15ish-year-old: “I wanted to tell her everything,” sighs David, looking back on the moment she looks sad over his apparent death. “I mean, who would have believed me anyway?”
More to the point, who would care? Anticipating that you may not, the film delivers someone to care — vehemently — a crusader named Roland (Samuel L. Jackson in shock-white hair). Armed with a zappy electric pole (something between a cattle prod and a taser), Roland is a member of a group called the Paladins, un-super humans who condemn the jumpers as “abominations.” Bumped and slammed around his Manhattan apartment, David looks up at his tormenter during their first encounter. “Why?” he wonders. Because, roars Roland (not quite the “And you will know I am the Lord when I lay my vengeance upon you” Sam Jackson, but in the ballpark), “Only God should be able to have the power to be all places.” What? Why does he worry about this, exactly? The film leaves at this: he’s got a “religious” motivation. And with that, the chase plot is off: David runs and jumps while Roland follows.
For reasons unknown, David heads back to Ann Arbor, where Millie happens to still be living, bartending near the university (this suggests she’s not so pure as the traditional superhero’s girlfriend, but she’s got that blandly beautiful Katie-Holmesy look down). He entices her to join him in some world traveling (a trip to see the Coliseum, using an airplane and all the scads of money he tells he’s made “in banking”). Showing incredibly poor judgment, she takes off with this exceedingly sketchy and manifestly violent young man from her past (he beats down another former classmate, a bully, basically because he can). Unbearably corny (including the Pretty Kids Sex Scene), their “date” is thankfully interrupted by the detail of Paladins in suits who try to smash David into oblivion.
Though they fail, of course, the scene does introduce Jumper‘s one brilliant point of light and energy: Jamie Bell. As another jumper named Griffin, he acts like he’s from another dimension, smart, alienated, and utterly unromantic. “I don’t play well with others,” he growls, even as David insists that they work together to defeat the very well organized and incredibly self-righteous Paladins (“You read Marvel comics?” he asks, “Two superheroes join up for a limited run!”). Griffin is disinclined to throw in with this twit, and in that he shows infinitely better judgment than Designated Love Interest Millie. He also has some fun undermining David’s fondness for clichés, deflating his efforts to share (“Did I ask about your family? I mean, are we on Oprah here?”) or save Millie. “You’re not a hero, David. You’re a jumper. You don’t get the girl. Don’t you get it?”
He most certainly does not get it. But why should he? As they argue, the boys are jumping themselves from location to location, ending up in a Chechnyan war zone, surrounded by men with guns, explosions, and fiery explosions. (It’s never clear why the jumpers suffer only bloody lips or bruises when they emerge from ostensibly brutal fights, car crashes, and shootouts.) The backdrop — a flimsy fantasy version of a real life, politically messy tragedy — reminds you yet again of the utter inconsequence of Jumper.