Why would 20th Century Fox release a science fiction film on Valentines Day? Counter programming perhaps? Or could it be that it is actually about love conquering all, including platinum blonde religious fanatics and metaphysics? Based on a novel by Stephen Gould Jumper, a new film starring the Vancouver born Hayden Christensen, is sci fi that wears its heart on its sleeve.
Once, says David Rice (Max Thieriot as the teenage Rice), he was a normal guy like us—“a chump,” with Metallica posters on his bedroom wall—but that was before he discovered he could transcend space and “jump” from one place to another. At first he sees this amazing power as his ticket out of a miserable home life; a chance to leave the teen angst of his Ann Arbor high school, where he is known as “Rice Bowl” behind. His first jump takes him to New York City where he transports himself into bank vaults, empties them and disappears all without opening a door or picking a lock.
The movie then jumps forward eight years. David (now played by Christensen) has matured into a handsome twenty-something with a strong resemblance to Anakin Skywalker. Self indulgent to the extreme, he squanders his gift, robbing banks to finance his globetrotting lifestyle while jumping from one exotic locale to another.
If this was an episode of Dr. Phil it might be noted at this point that David is likely very unhappy and simply uses his teleporting gift to run away from a deeply troubled childhood and the memory of his soul mate, a girl he has loved since he was five-years-old and who he hasn’t seen since he fled his hometown. While that may be true, he also has other reasons to run.
Since the beginning of time jumpers have had a sworn enemy in the form of Paladins, religious fanatics who believe that “only God should have the power to be all places,” and will stop at nothing, murder is big on their list, to exterminate David’s kind. Christensen’s Star Wars co-star Samuel L. Jackson plays Roland, a platinum blonde Paladin with a nasty attitude.
After his first encounter with Roland David seeks refuge in his old hometown, where he reconnects with Millie (The O.C.’s Rachel Bilson), his high school crush. Of course after a quick trip to Rome she becomes the target of the Paladins who plan on using her to get to him. Add in Griffin (Jamie Bell), an experienced teleporter with a hate for Paladins, and Jumper takes on the patina of a metaphysical chase movie, but is, at its heart, a story of love lost and found.
Jumper has some spectacular visuals—a double-decker bus flies from one dimension to another and the helicopter shot of Christensen eating lunch perched atop the Sphinx must have cost a fortune—but not much more depth than an episode of Quantum Leap. Christensen’s David may be able to transcend space and time, but underneath it all he is still just a geeky love sick teen.
The idea of jumping through space is a cool one, and is beautifully rendered in the film, with characters unexpectedly popping up here and there, but the love story is mawkish and clichéd, as though it was cribbed from the inside of Hallmark Valentines card.
It’s hard to know what to make of Jumper. The film has a rough time making up its mind what it wants to be—is it sci fi or romance? Despite its cool imagery the mushy stuff may not appeal to the Space Channel crowd and the speculative fiction aspect tarnishes its appeal as a date movie.
It’s tricky to place romance in the center of a science fiction action film, but if done properly it can take the narrative to new levels and ground the more fantastic elements of the story. Unfortunately Jumper’s star crossed love story is too under developed and immature to do anything but distract from the film’s distinctive sci fi elements.