Jumper (2008): Doug Liman’s Sci-Fi Actioner, Starring Hayden Christensen and Jamie Bell

There is a big black hole at the center of “Jumper,” Doug Liman’s hyper-kinetic, globetrotting sci-fi-actioner-thriller: It’s called plot. Despite the fact that three screenwriters are credited, that it has a brief running time (about 90 minutes), and that the movement and action span three or four continents, there are no characters to root for or even relate to.

Coming out of the movie, all you remember are several images of the two leads, Hayden Christensen and Jamie Bell, using their skills for teleportation, jumping or flying “Matrix”-style from one exotic locale to another.

Arguably, “Jumper” is the weakest film made by the gifted Liman, who most recently helmed the first segment of the Bourne franchise, “The Bourne Identity” and the star vehicle “Mr. & Mrs. Smith,” with Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, both of which were commercial hits and had some artistic merits.

Over the years, Liman’s films have become bigger and bigger. But have they also become better, more interesting I doubt it. Given the choice, I’ll revisit his earlier, smaller indie features, “Swingers” and “Go.” But, alas, Liman has become the latest victim of Hollywood’s current philosophy, “Size Matters,” or “Big Is Better.”

The new film also emphasizes, as if we needed another reminder, that state-of-the-art technology and highly-charged fast-moving sagas cannot really compensate for inert drama that fails to involve on any level, thematic, emotional, or psychological.

It’s doesnt help that most viewers are unfamiliar with the source material, which lacks the prestige, cachet, and mythology of similar films. Based on Steven Gould’s sci-fi novels “Jumper” and “Reflex,” the movie depicts the adventures of David Rice (Hayden Christensen), who discovers his peripatetic gifts in school while escaping from an accident.

The little story the movie has is all conveyed in the first reel. Young viewers will relate to the family situation of David, a youngster abused by his father (Michael Rooker, typecast in another nasty role), who gains freedom by acquiring access to a huge bank vault.

But there is a problem with the nature of David’s adventures. Unlike other comic strip heroes (“Spider-Man,” “Batman”), who apply their special talents to collective goals and the communal welfare, David is mostly interested in living a good, luxurious life. This means that in the course of one day, he can surf off the Australian Coast, eat Sushi in an expensive Tokyo restaurant, have lunch on top of the Sphinx (as the movie’s trailer and poster long indicated), and visit Rome’s Coliseum, when he feels like.

Calculated to the max, and wishing to appeal to (or at least not alienate) the female viewers, “Jumper” has a romantic sub-plot, which is as under-developed as the rest of the film, in David’s love for his high school sweetheart (Rachel Bilson).

Later on, in the Roman Coliseum, where David sneaks off into off-limit sites, some tension prevails when David meets Griffin (Jamie Bell), a teenager who’s blessed with the same gifts. In a brief exposition scene, Griffin tells David (and the audience) about the old historical battle between the Jumpers and the Paladins, a secret fanatic organization. Hopes for some drama are raised when another character, the moralistic Roland who leads the Paladin crusade, is introduced. But as soon as we spot Samuel L. Jackson with his long white hair, those hopes are crushed.

Liman will be largely blamed for the artistic failure of “Jumper,” which, nonetheless, should do well at the box-office on opening weekend, before the reviews and word-of-mouth spread around. However, the main fault is with the writing, not just helming. Since three scribes–David S. Goyer (“Batman Begins”), Jim Uhls (“Fight Club”) and Simon Kinberg (“Mr. and Mrs. Smith”)-have contributed to the shooting script, it’s impossible to know who did what or attribute specific elements.

The acting is decent, if not great. It’s still hard to tell whether Hayden Christensen, who segues smoothly from the “Star Wars” to this kind of fare, will become a major star, though he shows charisma and facility of movement.

Technically speaking, the film is sleek, but it’s accomplished in an impersonal way, and any director could have achieved the same results if surrounded by such expert team of craftsmen and up-to-the-moment visual and sound effects technology.

Cast

David – Hayden Christensen
Griffin – Jamie Bell
Roland – Samuel L. Jackson
Millie – Rachel Bilson
Mary – Diane Lane
William – Michael Rooker
Young Millie Anna Sophia Robb
Young David – Max Thierot

Credits

A 20th Century Fox release presented in association with Regency Enterprises of a New Regency/Hypnotic production, made in association with Dune Entertainment.
Produced by Arnon Milchan, Lucas Foster, Jay Sanders, Simon Kinberg.
Executive producers, Stacy Maes, Kim Winther, Vince Gerardis, Ralph M. Vicinanza.
Co-producer, Joe Hartwick Jr.
Directed by Doug Liman.
Screenplay, David S. Goyer, Jim Uhls, Kinberg, based on the novel by Steven Gould.
Camera: Barry Peterson.
Editors: Saar Klein, Don Zimmerman, Dean Zimmerman.
Music: John Powell; music supervisor, Julianne Jordan.
Production designer: Oliver Scholl.
Supervising art directors, Thomas Valentine, Elinor Rose Galbraith; art director, Peter Grundy.
Set decorator: Hilton Rosemarin.
Costume designer: Magali Guidasci.
Sound: John J. Thomson; sound supervisor/sound designer, Craig Henighan.
Visual effects supervisors: Joel Hynek, Kevin Elam.
Special effects supervisor: Yves Debono.

MPAA Rating: PG-13.

Running time: 88 Minutes.