If the old showbiz adage says that 90 percent of success or failure happens at the casting stage, “Jumper” proves it in spades. This breathlessly goofy, globe-trotting action flick about “jumpers” who can teleport anywhere they like would have been far more entertaining if it didn’t star the aggressively wooden Hayden Christensen and Rachel Bilson as the leads. While the appearance of all-grown-up “Billy Elliot” star Jamie Bell midway through the film markedly livens up the proceedings, it’s too little, too late.
Christensen stars as David Rice, a man who discovered in his adolescence that he had the power to pop from place to place just by thinking about it. After running away from home, he learns to use his power to rob banks and to bop around the globe surfing, seducing and stealing on a whim. We’re supposed to forgive the theft because he leaves IOUs, but why should we care about David when we see him blithely ignoring flood victims on TV in order to poof himself into London for drinks with a hot blonde?
A surprise visit from the mysterious Roland (Samuel L. Jackson, sporting a ridiculous snowy-white afro) makes David realize that someone out there is onto him and is trying to stop him. He returns home and whisks his high-school sweetheart Millie (Bilson) off to Rome, but Roland’s men are in hot pursuit. It’s in the bowels of the Coliseum that David encounters Griffin (Bell), a fellow jumper who tells him that Roland and his cohorts are “paladins,” who have hunted down and destroyed jumpers for centuries.
All of which leads to the big climactic showdown and the rescuing of The Girl (who, granted, is faced with forces beyond her ken but still proves herself to be massively useless).
Director Doug Liman has a gift for glossy, big-budget, international productions — he gave us “The Bourne Identity” and “Mr. and Mrs. Smith” — but he’s lost the skill he showed for actual dialogue in earlier films like “Swingers” and “Go.”
The loud moments are fun, even though you’ll eventually lose track of what the hell is going on, and the quiet moments, alas, tend to revolve around the blankly bubble-headed antics of Christensen and Bilson. Christensen, in particular, has an astonishing emptiness to him on the screen, somewhere between a 1950s Hollywood contract player and a 1990s Czech gay porn star. I found myself recasting his role with Topher Grace or any number of other talented young actors when things got dull.
The action-packed finale certainly jolted me back awake, however, with Bell and Christensen chasing each other from Antarctica to a mid-air battle plummeting from the top of the Empire State Building to war-torn Chechnya. And the visual effects throughout do justice to the loopy premise (from Steven Gould’s novel).
The last five minutes of “Jumper” dangles more sequel-inviting loose threads than “The Golden Compass,” so if the movie opens strongly, expect to hear news about “Jumper 2” or “Jumpers” or “Jumpy Jump Jump” soon thereafter. It would behoove the filmmakers, however, to build this franchise around two more charismatic and talented leads.