Tuesday, February 26, 2008

'Jumper' entertains despite itself

“Jumper” is a very silly movie. It is at times downright stupid in its complete abandonment of plausibility and logic. And yet, in spite of all of its problems, I liked it.

The film starts out with an entertaining conceit. A 15-year-old boy named David (Max Thieriot) discovers that he has the ability to teleport or “jump.” He uses this power to escape an alcoholic father, rob some banks and live a posh, globetrotting existence. By the time he is in his mid-20s and played by Hayden Christensen, he has mastered his ability and set himself up nicely.

After establishing its playful premise, the film becomes convoluted. David discovers he isn’t the only jumper when he meets Griffin (Jamie Bell, “Billy Elliot,” “The Chumscrubber”). Griffin explains that jumpers have arch-nemeses named Paladins who have vowed to kill all jumpers because “only God should have the power to be everywhere at once.” The Paladins, led by Samuel L. Jackson, use staffs that conduct high voltage electricity that prevent the jumpers from teleporting. Confused yet?

There is also a forced, utterly superfluous love story with Rachel Bilson of “The O.C.” Bilson is pretty, but has no screen presence. To be fair she isn’t given much to work with. Her character is given two things to do: sleep with David and be rescued by David.

The initial fun of the film’s setup is nearly completely undermined when it switches over to its tired good versus evil plot. There’s no depth to the struggle or any examination of why this centuries-old battle is being waged.

A movie like “The Matrix” took a science-fiction premise and explored it seriously and actually had ideas behind it. There’s none of that here. This is a movie that is pure surface. What you see is what you get.

That the film doesn’t implode can be credited to director Doug Liman (“Go,” “The Bourne Identity”). Liman keeps things moving at a quick pace that doesn’t allow the more cumbersome elements of the plot to sink in. When the story fails him, Liman, at the very least, brings some glee to the visuals. The action and effects have a stylish energy.

Christensen, who has been called everything from half man/half tree to a black hole by critics, is actually a decent lead. Yes, Christensen was awful in the “Star Wars” prequels, but let’s not hold that against him forever. He can act — see “Shattered Glass” as proof. As David, he has a mischievous grin in the film’s early scenes and possesses a likeability even when his character starts out slightly amoral.

But it doesn’t matter how well Christensen plays the role because he isn’t the problem. The character is. Although David is the lead character, Bell’s Griffin is a far more engaging, better written character.

Bell gets the film’s best lines and completely upstages Christensen. Whenever Bell is on screen the film comes alive. His energy, charisma and punkish attitude make you wish “Jumper” was about him. He makes the film work when it should be stalled on the side of the road.

“Jumper” is escapist entertainment, nothing more, but, for some, quite possibly less. It is a movie with the potential to be so much more, but that works well enough as is. No one will confuse “Jumper” for a good movie, but if you’re in the right frame of mind, a good time can be had.

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