The Theory of Chaos

Thursday, March 06, 2008


Full review behind the jump


: Doug Liman
: Screenplay by David S. Goyer and Jim Uhls and Simon Kinberg, based on the novel by Steven Gould
: Lucas Foster, Simon Kinberg, Stacy Maes, Jay Sanders
: Hayden Christensen, Samuel L. Jackson, Diane Lane, Jamie Bell, Rachel Bilson, Michael Rooker, AnnaSophia Robb, Max Thieriot, Jesse James

Movies don’t often prove their own theme as self-destructively as
Jumper does. It reminds me of how the porn industry refers to its dialogue scenes as “fast-forwards”, knowing that the viewer, with the power to skip in their hands, will inevitably use that power to cut to the sex. And then when the sex becomes boring, they will cut to the climax.

As if to convince us to sympathize with its shallow hero and his Amazing Power, it provides characters and dialogue that, when not engaged in special effects-related-activity, are as banal and cliché-ridden as that in porn movies (not that I’ve seen any). And it’s true that after awhile I thought that if I had the power to teleport, and human beings were really this dull and predictable, I’d probably turn into a snotty globe-hopping sybarite too.

But I can’t imagine that the filmmakers put even this much thought into how they were orchestrating their own downfall. The movie is a transparent excuse to play with special effects, which they do with relish. And in the tradition of comic-book spectacle, to some small degree I can allow this, can accept that it’s going to mock plausibility at every turn as it manically riffs on the variables of its premise. But having abandoned the dusty niceties of effective drama, having already fast-forwarded its way to caring about nothing but climax, it feels far less than half-hearted as a movie.

Said hero is David Rice (Hayden Christensen), who as a teenager (Max Thieriot) discovered in a moment of crisis that he could tear little hop-holes in the fabric of space to go anywhere he can envision. Now a young man with a few impossible bank heists under his belt, he plasters his tasteful New York penthouse with pictures of exotic locales, and spends his days leaping among them – bedding women, chasing big waves, and dining on top of the Sphinx. The normal pace of reality is so insufferably boring to him that he teleports to the other end of the sofa when he can’t reach the remote.

Christensen is an actor whose depths go chronically unplumbed. Having admired the tormented sociopathy he etched in Shattered Glass, and conversely bemoaned his blank pettiness in two Star Wars episodes, I can glimpse a mathematical formula taking shape. The more a movie expects him to act through effects rather than across from people, the more it relies on his photogenic bones and muscles rather than any true depth of character, the less talented he comes off. He cannot do what Keanu Reeves did in The Matrix – vanish into a costume and turn into a stylized figure on a digitally-painted canvas. Christensen just plain vanishes. And it takes quite a movie to inspire me to point out under-recognized qualities of Keanu Reeves.

More successful is Jamie Bell in the role of Griffin, a sarcastic and temperamental fellow “Jumper” who warns David to keep a low profile lest he be captured and murdered by The Paladins, one of those ancient secretive orders like the Illuminati or the Elks. Led by the ruthless Roland (Samuel L. Jackson), and with unlimited funding and unchallenged license to wreak public havoc in any nation on Earth (yet remain totally secret), they carry on a divine mission to snuff out these aberrations of Nature. Roland’s point – that this power inevitably corrupts people – feels a lot righter than David’s feeble plea of self-defense: “What if I’m different?” Fine talk from the man who took about a day to discover grand larceny. His argument seems to boil down to I’m too handsome to die.

So he bounds around from country to country, with Roland and his scowling, conspicuously-dressed super-secret minions racking up the frequent flier miles trying to lasso him. Since endangering his own life and the life of his family isn’t enough, David also decides to check in on an unconsummated crush from his youth, hometown friend Millie (Rachel Bilson). Millie is a two-dimensional character, if you consider “pretty” and “nice” to adequately qualify as individual dimensions. David one again proves his heroism by lying to her, lavishing expensive attentions on her with his ill-gotten wealth, and then seducing her.

But now I’m just being picky. The action in Jumper is not about heroism at all, but about the cowardly self-preservation of an unworthy superman. Characters leap from one expensive foreign locale to another, sometimes pulling weapons or vehicles with them, and create little explosions of violence before skipping off to some other latitude and longitude. So much time and painstaking work must have been involved in a movie where so many shots required little poofs of trickery, and these effects do contribute to a bright and dynamic visual palette. The movie looks so crisp and colorful and expensive that it’s bound to seize your attention for a few minutes.

But long-form scrutiny doesn’t suit Jumper; it calls on it to display depth and feeling, which require patience and attention – qualities David Rice threw away a long time ago. It’s as if Jumper was designed not to be paid attention to at all, but to be forever played on a loop in the background of electronics stores, to advertise the resolution of their TVs. It ought to sell a few.


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