Hayden Christensen is an actor of precisely one affect: a petulant, boyish entitlement so impregnable it borders on malevolence. He may never find a role more suited to his gift than that of Stephen Glass, the boy-wonder fabulist of Shattered Glass (or, as I like to think of it, Saw for journalists). * As the young Anakin Skywalker in the Star Wars films, Christensen got the teenage torment part right, but he never seemed substantial enough to grow into a dictator as potent as Darth Vader, and his love scenes with Natalie Portman were risibly spark-free.
In Jumper (20th Century Fox), directed by Doug Liman (Swingers, The Bourne Identity, Mr. and Mrs. Smith), Christensen’s bratty indolence should have been a plus. After all, as the teleporting twentysomething David Rice, he’s sort of the ultimate trust-fund kid. Not because he comes from money—his dad (Michael Rooker) is an abusive bum, and his mother (Diane Lane) abandoned him when he was 5. But David has infinitely deep pockets and a jet-setting lifestyle, thanks to his inborn ability to “jump” instantaneously from one place to another: from Tokyo to Cairo to Rome; from inside a bank vault to outside it, contents in hand; or, if he’s feeling lazy, just to the other side of a door. Take that, doorknob! In the words of Roland (Samuel L. Jackson), David’s mysterious white-maned, gray-turtle-necked nemesis, jumpers live life “with all the boring parts cut out.” That would definitely rule out this movie.
Jumper never contends with its biggest liability: the fact that its main character is neither a lovable rascal nor a fascinatingly dark antihero, but just kind of a smug tool. He’s a wormhole-hopping frat boy who treats the globe as his own private Fort Lauderdale. After snagging some gnarly waves in Fiji and a Polish chick’s phone number, he zips off for a solo lunch atop the Sphinx’s head. One day, he decides to head back to his hometown and look up a childhood flame, Millie (Rachel Bilson). Millie’s always wanted to visit Rome, so David takes her there (old-school style, on a plane, to hide his special powers). But his idiotic insistence on dragging her into the Coliseum after closing time brings them face to face with a vagabond British jumper, Griffin (Jamie Bell), who warns David that the Paladins, sworn enemies of jumpers everywhere, are hot on his trail.
How has David gotten through years of blissful jumping with no notion that the Paladins (or, for that matter, other jumpers) even exist? Why do jumpers themselves exist? How many are there, and how long have they been around? Whence the rift between them and the Paladins (whose vaguely medieval name suggests a grudge of historical standing)? Ask away, my friends, and ye shall ask in vain. Jumper’s script, based on a young-adult sci-fi novel by Steven Gould, is less blameworthy for its incoherence than for its incuriosity. Isn’t the whole point of movies like this to establish a consistent, if completely absurd, cosmology and then have fun playing with its logic and lingo? Jumper not only makes the rules up as it goes along; it neglects to tell us what those rules are, which is both unfair and unfun.
At moments, the movie seems to be aspiring to camp, as when Samuel L. Jackson’s character, preparing for an extraserious jump, spritzes a room with some mysterious substance in an aerosol can (E-Z Jump? Rules-of-Time-and-Space-B-Gone?). Only Sam Jackson could spray in a way that makes you think, man, that’s some badassed spraying. Unfortunately, Jumper isn’t Snakes on a Plane, and Liman squanders Jackson’s gift for tongue-in-cheek action (in addition to humiliating him with a dreadful character wig).
Jumper is like the bleary morning-after hangover of Liman’s early work. Swingers and Go, trifling though they were, made the pleasure of being an indestructible young person palpable and powerful. Jumper shares those movies’ emphasis on youth culture, exotic locations, and constant, restless kinesis. Yet it feels hollow, sickly, and inert. Those were movies about amoral jerks with pitiable aspirations toward a materialistically imagined “good life.” So is Jumper; but it also feels, depressingly, like a movie by one.
Correction, Feb. 18, 2008: The sentence originally and incorrectly identified Stephen Glass as a plagiarist. The former journalist fabricated stories; he did not copy the work of others. (Return to the corrected sentence.)