Ivan Vukovic jumps through the Grand Canyon-wide plot holes of Doug Liman’s Jumper, a.k.a. “the dying gasp of Hayden Christensen’s film career.”
Jumper is the first film I’ve reviewed for this blog that didn’t meet the (admittedly low) bar of movies that I enjoyed seeing 10 years ago. It’s also one of the first films I’ve reviewed that I hadn’t previously re-watched or at least carried with me in my mind since its release. In a way, I was uniquely excited to revisit it, as it gave me a genuine opportunity to examine a film I remember finding underwhelming but not having the critical eye at the time to understand why.
What I returned to find was a movie that justifies the existence of CinemaSins. This movie is full of so much lazy writing that you don’t even need to be the mildest of nitpickers to feel compelled to call out its plot holes. Although in fairness, plot holes imply something large and gaping, like a sinkhole that has opened up on a busy street. Jumper is more like a neighborhood street in an underfunded municipality that, while not having opened up a massive sinkhole, instead has a multitude of smaller potholes and cracks in the road. They’re noticeable, bumpy, and cumbersome, but who really has the time, resources, or motivation to even suggest having them repaired?
Let’s go through what some of this crumbling infrastructure looks like. You know that traditional narrative trope of starting a story with “Hey, check out the current state of my crazy life,” and then a few minutes later it transitions to “But it wasn’t always this way” and then takes us back to the meat of the story? Jumper does this in all of thirty seconds, with the opening framing device being our protagonist hanging out on top of the Sphinx looking and sounding like a Martin Shkreli type douchebag talking about the country clubs he’s been to and the celebrities he’s chilled with on various rooftop bars that day.
So who is this douchebag? Well, his name is David Rice, and eight years earlier in the story he’s played by the far more dynamic and interesting Max Thieriot, who probably could have portrayed both the teen and adult version of the character had he been a few years older at the time. Naturally, David was a “chump like you” when he was 15, and then his life changed when he discovered he has the ability to teleport, or “jump.” What does he immediately do with this amazing newfound ability? Does he use it to aid in courting his potential high school sweetheart, repairing his relationship with his alcoholic father, or seeking out the loving mother who mysteriously abandoned the family when he was five? Hell no! This guy makes a beeline for New York City, robs a bank, and proceeds to live a hollow life of travel, luxury, and debauchery. Goodbye Michigan, hello life of void of any friends and family—but hey, he can go surfing and pick up women in London bars anytime he wants!
Eight years later, David now looks like Hayden Christensen and the party is over when Anakin’s former Jedi superior Mace Windu shows up in his apartment to…kill him? Apprehend him? He seemingly attempts to do both in a very half-assed manner. See, Master Windu is some kind of government agent/law enforcement/bounty hunter figure who hunts down and kills Jumpers as a member of a shadow organization knowns as the Paladins, who do this sort of thing with seemingly unlimited resources and a vague religious overtone. He’s actually been looking for David ever since that bank robbery eight years ago, and a few minutes earlier in the film he gets a call from another operative who informs him that they “have a lead on the bank.” EIGHT YEARS LATER. Eight years later and a bank robbery where the culprit could have conceivably been a non-Jumper somehow hasn’t become a cold case to Paladin Master Windu. They make it sound like a week has passed since the robbery rather than upward of a decade.
Alarmed and on the run, David returns to his hometown of Ann Arbor, reconnects with his crush Millie, who is now played by Rachel Bilson, and whisks her away to Rome for a romantic getaway. Since this asshole is terrible at keeping a low profile, he quickly gets arrested for breaking into the Coliseum. At the police station his mother mysteriously reappears to warn him that the Paladins are after him and rapidly approaching, which compels David to run off and hastily send Millie back on a flight home while he figures out a game plan to deal with the Paladins with the help of another Jumper by the name of Griffin (played by Jamie Bell). Why am I just now telling you about Griffin for the first time? Well, Griffin has already showed up in the movie two or three times by this point, following David out of morbid curiosity to see how a fellow Jumper is conducting himself. None of his appearances have had much impact in the plot. Griffin has just kind of been…there. Meet Griffin.
In what might be the most forced and perplexing pop culture reference ever ham-fisted into modern cinema, David and Griffin agree to do a “Marvel Team-Up,” a short-term collaboration between two parties for the purpose of completing a mutual goal, in this case taking down the Paladins. Yes, they directly and forcibly refer to it as a Marvel Team-Up, a comic series whose original run ended in 1985, which would have been right around the time that superhero screenwriter David S. Goyer would have been reading comics as a young lad. Nicely done, David. What a killer reference for millennial characters to repeatedly use here in the third act.
Long story short, the collaboration works until it doesn’t. In the end David single-handedly saves Millie from the clutches of Master Windu and his people; he drops his antagonist off in the middle of the Grand Canyon, making it a point to tell Windu that he should be thankful he wasn’t fed to the sharks. That was…kind of him? A stupid thing to do? Especially considering it gives Windu no reason to stop hunting David? Is this fight really over?
The final scene of the movie shows David paying a visit to his mother’s house that he somehow tracked down (a McMansion complete with a new half-sister played by Kristen Stewart for 10 seconds!), where he and his mama set the record straight on a few things: She loves him! But her job is to hunt people like him! But she loved him so much that she left him when he was five for his own good! But she showed up at the police station in Rome to warn him that the Paladins are coming! Because she loves him! But now he’s here! But she still has to hunt him! But she’s going to give him another head start! Because she loves him! He exits the house and, hand in hand with Millie, starts giggling about where they’re going party it up next. Cool.
If this movie serves a role in any Hollywood history book, it has to be as the dying gasp of Hayden Christensen’s film career. I don’t say that with any kind of glee or attempt at ridicule; I’m the first to point to Shattered Glass being a great film in large part due to his performance, although I’m also the first to point out that the awkward and stilted Stephen Glass may have been the role he was born to play. Between the Star Wars prequels and an indie film that only you and I saw, this guy was in desperate need to prove that he could carry a major film. If only it had been any other film. Or hell, even any other character in this film. Swap the actors between David and Griffin (who is revealed to be quite a bit of an abrasive and bloodthirsty jerk) and you might have had some far more compelling performances.
Hayden Christensen has become a punchline mostly as a result of the inexcusably bad dialogue he was forced to perform as Anakin. Here, he more or less spends the majority of the film talking like a human would in any time or any galaxy, but this human character arc is virtually nonexistent.
Early in the film when adult David’s carefree lifestyle is being established, there’s a quick scene where he watches the news and sees a report of a flood that has left victims stranded in the middle of affected areas where rescuers aren’t able to reach them. So who could possibly reach them? Who’s going to help these people? Not David, who looks away from the TV with boredom and disinterest to let us the audience know that this guy doesn’t subscribe to that great power, great responsibility nonsense.
That’s more or less how he remains for the rest of the film. Moving forward, David’s motivations continue to be built around self-survival, which eventually encompasses Millie’s survival as well. But does he do anything to establish himself as one of the “good ones,” as he insists himself to be in his final scene with Windu? Nope. Does he make it a point to make sure innocent lives aren’t being caught in the crossfire of his climactic fights with both Griffin and the Paladins? Nope. Does he have any aspirations to do anything other than party it up at the end of the film, now with the only difference being that the girl he was into when he was 15 is joining him for the ride? Nope.
Speaking of the fight against Griffin, that scene is probably the visual high point of the film. With two Jumpers locked in a chase fight, the movie holds no punches in showing them jump around the world to a new stunning backdrop every 10 seconds. It’s the one part of the movie where it feels like these teleportation powers are actually being used for maximum visual effect. Even more impressive is the fact that it’s shot and edited in a way where the action is easy to follow along and minimally dizzying. This sequence lasts under a minute; I remember even back then thinking it was the standout moment of the movie.
Now, in fairness to the screenwriters and maybe even the director who probably lost some fights with an overbearing studio, this movie clocks in at just under 90 minutes even with the credits and reeks of having key scenes left on the cutting room floor. I just spent a lot of time shitting on this film, but I’m convinced that an extra 15 or 20 minutes could have added a lot of character depth and clarity around the mythology and methodology of the Paladins. This world has all the makings of a franchise but none of the sprawling world-building needed to pave the way for a sequel.
That short running time doesn’t give the film an opportunity to reach that high, which in turns limits the impact of its stumble and fall. Watching it again certainly did take me back to that innocent time when January and February truly were the dreaded “dumping ground” for wide release films, but every now and then an offering like this one would waltz along with an $85 million budget, a strategic Valentine’s Day release date, and the promise of being something more than what we expected around that time of year
And it was a little more. Just not a lot more.