February 21, 2008

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Jumper (PG-13)
An excessively whiny Hayden Christensen can teleport anyplace on Earth but chooses to stay in Jumper, a movie wherein people with transporter-on-Star-Trek-like abilities are chased by killjoy agents who seek to kill them via electrocution.

Though, after a few moments with Christensen, you can kind of understand that urge.

When he was but a wee lad, David (Max Thieriot, who looks a lot like Christensen) learned that he could “jump” — that is, merely by thinking about it, he could travel from one place to another. He left his unhappy home at 15 and learned how to hone these skills, figuring out that all he needed was a good look at a place (the inside of a bank vault, say) and he could jump in.

Many years and jumps into bank vaults later and David (Christensen) is living the posh life in a New York City apartment, traveling to London for a quick drink (among a few other quick things) and then jumping to the other side of the world to surf. But he’s spotted — first by Griffin (Jamie Bell), a fellow jumper, and then by Roland (Samuel L. Jackson), a member of an organization that hunts and kills jumpers. (Why? One of the movie’s bigger plot holes is that it never really explains what’s behind this eternal game of fox and hound.)

In a move that makes even less sense in retrospect, David takes this moment of his greatest vulnerability to return to his hometown and reconnect with Millie (Rachel Bilson), the love of his teenage life. Perhaps because these are the kind of faulty critical thinking skills you develop when you drop out of high school to take up bank-robbing, David believes he can keep a step ahead of Roland, romance Millie and pump Griffin for clues about the jumper/jumper-hunter universe. He even comes to believe that he might be able so to solve the mystery of where his mom (Diane Lane — no, I don’t know why either) went when she disappeared during his early childhood.

The fundamental problem with this movie is Christensen. Look at Jumper from all angles — meager plot with some continuity problems, so-so characters without a lot of luster, the unremarkable dialogue — and you still see a movie that has all the makings of a not-good-but-not-so-bad action adventure that could fill a relaxing 90 minutes. When you turn your brain off and just soak in a half-baked movie, you don’t want something with too much puzzle, with too many layers. Jumper, like an episode of some syndicated sci-fi TV show from the 1990s, could be that kind of untaxing entertainment junk food — a bit of polish to the script and it might even be a guilty pleasure.

It’s Christensen’s performance that makes the film a chore to sit through. (Christensen and a little bit Bilson, who becomes a bit insufferable once the movie requires her to talk and have emotions.) I always attributed that nasally whine and his creepy-smug smile in the second and third Star Wars movies to poor character creation and bad writing by George Lucas and his minions. But now I feel as though I (almost) owe Lucas an apology. It’s not (or at least not just) his clunky direction and writing, it’s Christensen — he walks, talks, smiles and emotes like a CGI character, like a human Jar Jar Binks. He’s flat — from his facial expressions (of which there appear to be two — arrogant jackass and whiny crybaby) to his delivery, in which he sounds like he’s trying (unsuccessfully) to have some kind of an accent but you can never quite figure out what kind. He is a scene killer, a mood breaker, a suspension of disbelief interrupter. You don’t think “how is David going to get out of this?” You think “how far away would I have to jump to escape the sound of Christensen’s voice?” C-

Rated by PG-13 for sequences of intense action violence, some language and brief sexuality. Directed by Doug Liman and written by David Goyer, Jim Uhls and Simon Kinberg (from a novel by Steven Gould), Jumper is an hour and 30 minutes long and is distributed in wide release by 20th Century Fox