DVD Review: Jumper worth seeing as a rental
Based on/inspired by a YA novel of the same name by Stephen Gould, director Doug Liman’s SFX-fest is, by Liman’s admission, a film that uses its base as a jumping-off point without recreating the novel on film.
RATING: PG-13 (Mild viloence, sexual themes, language)
GENRES: Fantasy, Action
FORMAT: DVD and Blu-Ray
David Rice (Hayden Christiansen) was born with the ability to spontaneously teleport (TP) himself anywhere. He first recalls doing so at age 15 when he fell through lake ice. His mother left him and his father when David was five years old. His father, William Rice (Michael Rooker), is an alcoholic, plagued by unanswered questions about his wife’s desertion, and his son’s presence constantly reminds him of it. There are overtones of physical abuse toward his son that are never directly shown.
As David matures, he teaches himself to use his gift for personal gain and robs a few banks to support his new lifestyle, but he leaves IOUs behind, an important character note. David isn’t the evil villain he could be, given no scruples at all. By age 23, he has all the material possessions he could ever need, but he can’t forget the woman of his youth, Millie (Rachel Bilson), who was always nice to him even when the local bully wasn’t. He’s also searching for his mother.
There are, however, people watching David. His self-rescue from drowning alerted the Paladins, a secret organization of what fellow Jumper Griffin (Jamie Bell) later describes as “religious fanatics” who want to kill all Jumpers. Griffin has been tracking David, too, and provides the life-saving info-dump David will very soon need. Paladins have been chasing down and killing Jumpers for centuries, since medieval times, and that the Inquisition and witch hunts were part of that conflict — a bit too facile an explanation.
The two first meet at the bar where Millie now works, when David goes back to his home town to find her. David still hasn’t gotten over his crush on her, which has changed over time; when they meet again, it’s apparent that Millie could feel something similar. He gets into an argument with the local bully and whups butt, David and Millie run off to Rome together (on an airplane), but the Paladins are on the hunt. Eventually, David has to tell Millie the truth about himself and his financial resources. She isn’t exactly happy about this.
Roland (Samuel L. Jackson), leader of the Paladin team assigned to capture and kill David, is a man committed to his cause; according to him, “Only God should have the power” to do what Jumpers do. The Paladins have been looking for David since he fell through the ice, and he’d not known anything about them, nor had he met any other Jumpers until Griffin. Roland shows a sadistic side: he kills Jumpers with a nasty-looking knife that he always carries. All Paladins carry a baton-styled taser that delivers 1k volts of electricity, the thing that interferes best with a Jumper’s ability. They also use spider-webbed electrified wire as Jumper traps, deliciously vicious things.
Paladins can’t Jump, but they have a device (black box, oh wow :/) which stabilizes a jump scar and create a wormhole through which Paladins can follow. This is handy for tossing enemies back and forth and shooting things (like a flame thrower) after them when opponents use the wormhole to escape to the other end.
David finally finds his mother, and a surprise: Mary Rice (Diane Lane) is also a Paladin. She couldn’t kill her own son, so she left her family. She lets David go again, giving him “a head start.” No explanation is given of how David was able to locate his mother, so apparently she’s hiding in plain sight. His mom also has a daughter, of David’s age or a few years younger; Jumper parents can also produce “normal” kids, it seems. The fact that Paladins can sire Jumpers is an interesting plot twist; as Mary’s character shows, there’s a choice a Paladin has to make when faced with hunting their own family member.
VIEWING WITH A CRITICAL EYE
A lot of things about the film’s plot feel familiar. The “eternal conflict” setup between Jumpers and Paladins feels like Highlander mythos mixed with Alfred Bester’s “jaunte” idea from The Stars My Destination. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but one wishes a little more inventiveness had gone into the set design. The SFX were pretty cool, admittedly.
A believable script was trashed when Roland whipped out “NSA” credentials when questioning the bank manager about a robbery David committed; the National Security Agency has become the cardboard cutout of black-ops feds in film. It would be nice if, just once, a film-maker did research and got it right about the NSA. As it turns out, Roland flashes creds for whichever federal spook agency/LEO hasn’t already shown up. One can do that only so many times before those other guys start hunting one down; the fact that they don’t in this film shows laziness on the director’s part.
Air displacement one would expect as a side effect of TP is shown consistently, and as a measure of how well the Jumper has mastered the skill. Less stuff flying about, more skill. The concept of a jump scar is interesting too, and made for a believable plot device to amp up the action and tension during chase sequences.
It was refreshing to see Hayden Christiansen again without that silly rattail down his back (his role in Shattered Glass as Stephen Glass, a journalist who got caught completely fabricating the details of articles he wrote for a major magazine, is particularly memorable) and angsting about trying to travel like everyone else does. Michael Rooker and Diane Lane made the most of their limited screen time, and created credible characters as a result. Samuel L. Jackson is always a presence on screen, and this film was no exception. I don’t think I’ve ever seen him play a character so religiously devoted to a cause, and it was an interesting role for him to choose (interesting is always very attractive to good actors). Relative newcomers Jamie Bell and Rachel Bilson also turned in solid performances, and will likely be seen again in the near future on film.
Interestingly, in Stephen Gould’s interview on the DVD release, he said he has no problem with this because books aren’t movies, and if a lot of people see the movie there’s at least the possibility that they’ll also read his books.
Jumper is worth a viewing, certainly, but unless you’re a big Hayden or Samuel L. fan, renting it is sufficient.
WATCH THE TRAILER
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