Add “Jumper” to the list of movies with nifty premises that are squandered by a sloppy, rushed execution. Based apparently rather loosely on Steven Gould’s 1992 novel, it’s about a young man who can teleport himself anywhere in the world, who is pursued by a mysterious organization that wants him dead. That’s a fine idea for a sci-fi film, and Doug Liman is a competent director (“The Bourne Identity,” “Mr. & Mrs. Smith”). So why is the finished product so hasty and vague and unrewarding?
Hayden Christensen plays David, a “jumper” since age 15. His clunky narration explains that “mom left when I was 5; as for Dad, well, let’s just say he wasn’t much of one.” Now 23, he lives a carefree life in New York City, existing on money he’s stolen from various banks by popping into their vaults, and constantly visiting all the corners of the earth just for fun. It is a good life, that of a jumper.
Until he meets Roland. Played by Samuel L. Jackson in an inexplicable white wig, Roland is a jumper hunter. “You are an abomination,” he tells an unlucky teleporter who has fallen into his grasp. “Only God should have the power to be in all places at all times.” Technically, jumpers are only in one place at a time, but you can’t argue with zealots who want to exterminate your kind.
David escapes from Roland and, perhaps inspired by his brush with death and perhaps just because the movie thought it was time, he returns to Michigan to look for his high school crush. Her name is Millie (Rachel Bilson), and she now tends bar at an Ann Arbor tavern. She and everyone else in Ann Arbor thought David was dead. Why has he waited eight years to return? And why isn’t the whole “we thought you were dead” thing addressed? You’d think Millie’s surprise at seeing him again would be a little deeper than a simple “Hey, I haven’t seen you in ages!” Michiganders evidently roll with the punches pretty smoothly. A dead man can show up to order a drink and be greeted with a hug.
Eventually David meets another jumper, Griffin (Jamie Bell), who knows a lot more about Roland’s group than David does, and the two reluctantly decide to work together to fight Roland and save themselves. Yet even with Griffin’s hurried explanations, you get the feeling that a lot of backstory and mythology have been cut out. Certain dialogue here and there suggests much greater complexity — the history of Roland’s group, the technology they use to find and trap jumpers, the physical laws governing teleportation, Griffin’s motives — that has obviously been excised in favor of a dopey CW Network romance and small-scale action scenes.
The screenplay is credited to three writers: David S. Goyer (“Blade,” “Batman Begins”), Jim Uhls (“Fight Club”), and Simon Kinberg (“XXX: State of the Union,” “Mr. & Mrs. Smith”). I suspect that too many cooks — and too much studio interference — have spoiled the broth. There’s a very cool sequence late in the film that involves David and Griffin jumping all over the world while fighting, and it briefly energizes what is otherwise a lackluster movie. It also hints at what a good movie this could have been if it were tighter and smarter. The book has a sequel, and the movie transparently leaves the door open for one, but I doubt things’ll get that far. I suspect this is both hello and goodbye for “Jumper.”
C (1 hr., 28 min.; )