The easiest way describe the film I’m about to write about is to state a simple fact: Jamie Bell = good actor, Hayden Christensen = bad actor.
I’m talking about Jumper, directed by Doug Liman, about a world where some people can teleport anywhere they have seen and another group, Paladins, hunt them down and kill them because they are an abomination of God. Davy (Hayden Christensen) is a young jumper who has just been introduced to the war between jumpers and paladins, a war that goes back into the middle ages (inquisition if you didn’t guess), by Roland (Samuel L. Jackson) and during his adventures he involves his high school crush Millie (Rachel Bilson) and meets Griffin (Jamie Bell), a jumper who hunts paladins. It seems like a lot to digest but the information is spooned out over the course of the first two acts. If you like science fiction then this type of introduction to characters and setting will be easier to assimilate.
What I liked: I have vowed to watch more Hollywood blockbusters (regardless of poor reviews and genre) this year in an effort to understand what I do and don’t like about them. Jumper is an excellent example and a great movie for me to see. The reviews are terrible, so my expectations were really low going in but the concept is appealing. I liked a lot of the ideas that were present in the movie. I watched one review (here) where they were questioning the rules associated with the jumper’s abilities along with many other aspects of the story. I can see where they were coming from but there seemed to be an internal logic to them, which would be too boring to describe, and I applaud Liman for choosing not to explain that bit of logic. He should have concentrated on other things however.
Jamie Bell, as Griffin, was my favorite part of the film. He had little to work with but comparing a simple line delivery of Bell‘s and Christensen‘s and you can see why I lead off with my observations. Bell has a natural manner and an energy that matches perfectly with the character. Though there is a lot of posturing going on with Griffin, Bell portrays more levels beneath the exterior and brings more life to the character than Christensen can in the entire film.
The action sequences, when they were understandable, were exciting. They were also well integrated into the story. Often I find that action sequences stick out from the rest of the story but I felt like jumper’s flowed with the story. It is a story that I was involved in and it kept me in my seat in spite of my need to urinate. That’s a feat.
Also there is a Marvel Team-Up reference which appeals to the comic fan (re: geek) in me.
What I didn’t like: Besides hating Hayden Christensen and his wooden approach to the character I thought that Samuel L. Jackson was grossly miscast. He plays the badass paladin Roland and because of Jackson‘s trademark coiled-spring/bad-motherfucker acting style we lose the religious fervor that should surround the paladins. These are people who kill jumpers simply for being able to jump. They do it for God. I think that’s a great idea but Jackson plays too much of the anger in most of the scenes. As written the character should be holy and the hunting and killing of jumpers should be a religious act. In this movie it’s not and it has everything to do with Jackson.
Diane Lane, as Davy’s mother, was supposed to be a big reveal but anyone who didn’t get that she would be involved as either a paladin or a jumper is an idiot. I could see it a mile off. What is she doing in this movie? This is like an episode of Law and Order where a famous actor is in the episode so you know he (or she) is going to be the murderer*. Ditto for Lane in Jumper. I suppose it’s possible that she would have been the standard, Hollywood, throw-away female, but here she is set up to be in the sequel.
The action sequences have a tendency to get so kinetic and so cute with the multiple famous locations that it becomes uninteresting after the second time. I realize that if I were in a fight (and I’ve been in quite a few) that it’s difficult to tell what is going on but as an audience do we have to spend the entire fight in that state? Don’t we get the idea after one fight? In this case I felt that Liman‘s kinetic style, which worked so well in The Bourne Identity, did a disservice to how interesting a fight between two people who teleport can be.
Christensen is the real failure of this film. I will go on record as someone who thinks that action stars can have acting chops and should. So, I’m not a fan of the Keanu Reeves school of casting where you get an attractive lead who can barely read a line and stick him in every scene of the film. Christensen‘s performance is so wooden that it becomes distracting. Listen to the voice over in the beginning of the film. It sounds like he is reading from a teleprompter. It’s flat and uninteresting. It’s not underplaying if you can’t convey the emotion. There is a scene where his girlfriend now hates him (I’m paraphrasing) and she wants to be left alone. There is a beat (maybe two beats) where he’s supposed to tell the story by emoting. Instead he avoids her gaze and purses his lips before uttering a nonsensical line. Acting is part of storytelling and even in Hollywood action movies you need to be able to act.
Going back to the voice over at the opening of the film for a moment, it’s poorly done. You can’t have voice over in the opening ten minutes and not have it in the rest of the film. That is lazy filmmaking. Also, when you have voice over from the lead actor the film should be from his point of view. That would mean that there is never a scene where he isn’t present because in theory the film is taking place in his head. In this film there are a number of scenes where we are with Roland and Davy is nowhere to be found. That is a broken bit of filmmaking and I found it very distracting.
Last, the ending. The scene with Diane Lane and Davy’s confrontation with her. It felt tacked on and it repeated things we already knew. Why couldn’t this information have been delivered during the film? It was a needless epilogue with only one good line.
In conclusion the film is flawed and stumbles over itself more than once but when compared with similar action/sci-fi pictures it wasn’t so bad. I chalk this rating up to low expectations.
*Kelly turned me onto this idea.
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