Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Fri Mar 07, 2008 2:14 pm 
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Swifter than the wings of thought, alas

The wind would ruffle the pages, tug my hair and clothes around, and I would go into the words, find the cracks between the sentences and the words would go away, leaving me in the story, the action, the head of other people.

It's funny; those lines occur in the novel, Jumper and concern its hero, David Rice. He's actually a reader, in love with the magic of words.

People see this movie as a great premise that went south, but it just feels like an intensification of all that's soul-destroying about CGI and big-budget action movies--the way they can visualize everything and thus atrophy the spirit and the imagination of the spectator. Note this is an adaptation of a novel, a thing made of words. Words are the real "jumpers"--that's why Shakespeare called them "the wings of thought." They let us imagine things for ourselves. Jumper --the movie--wouldn't dream of doing that.

One day while in high school David Rice (Hayden Christensen) is on the verge of drowning in a freezing lake, when he suddenly finds himself providentially transported to the floor of the Ann Arbor public library. He knows the talent for "teleporting" this reveals must be good for something more. . . And presto! Flash-forward to David as a twenty-something neo-yuppie in a Manhattan loft full of expensive boy-toys, with a wall of picture postcards to initiate "jumps" to Fiji, the Sphinx, or Rome from, as well as a huge stash of dough he's nicked from bank vaults. It seems he can take stuff along with him, when he teleports, and fly through walls, however thick. That David's fun is selfish is wordlessly communicated by showing him ignoring the Katrina disaster on TV. I guess he could have teleported people out of New Orleans before they drowned, or jumped-in piles of stolen dough for poor black people.

Instead, apart from dodging the cops who're tracking the bank robberies and living the life of a priapic post-adolescent jet-setter, David woos his high-school sweetheart, Millie (Rachel Bilson), by taking her to see the Colosseum, which she finds really "cool." Along with providing too-easy images and robbing the dialogue of any intelligent function, David S. Goyer, Jim Uhls, and Simon Kinberg's dumb screenplay makes changes of venue even more meaningless by providing characters in Jumper who have no sense of culture or of place. The whole Millie thing doesn't seem to fit. It feels like part of another story about a more sympathetic character, which is what Stephen Gould's source novel is. The book has been completely sliced and diced here.

In Rome with Millie, David means to hide his peculiar ability--it's not something you want to have to explain--and they go there by plane like you or me and take a taxi into town. But then, wouldn't you know it, it's closing time at the Colosseum, and he just has to break the rules and "jump" inside to open the gate. Couldn't they wait till tomorrow? No, being a jumper means basing all your life on instant gratification.

Then along comes trouble in the person of Hayden's Star Wars prequel colleague Samuel L. Jackson as a "Paladin"--an ancient, also medieval, knightly title more recently adopted for a Dungeons and Dragons good guy, but perhaps best known to American pop consumers as Richard Boone's hero of "Have Gun Will Travel." This Paladin has more than a gun. He's got a sawed-off light saber-and a hell of a grudge, as well as a weird cropped white hairdo. Dungeons and Dragons and Richard Boone aside, from the jumper point of view Paladins are poison. Maybe they just hate anybody's having so much fun; anyway they're out to eliminate David, having waged war on jumpers for centuries.

That must mean there are other jumpers--something David hasn't caught on to till now. Presto! Here's Griffin (another Dungeons and Dragons title), a far more experienced teleporter with a desert retreat, a mass of unruly hair, and two things David conspicuously lacks: manic energy and an ability to project emotion. Jamie Bell livens things up and acts as foil to the pretty but unengaged Christiansen, who when robbed of the opportunity to smolder or cry goes quite blank. No amount of jumping arouses any sign of emotion in him.

It's ironic that this movie had a big enough budget to shoot on location in exotic places. Because the trouble is "jumping" is a change of location that's unearned and without any particular plot logic. It could be just as well anywhere; that's the point. So why bother to shoot Colosseum scenes in the actual Colosseum? Especially when the heroine's only reaction to it is "cool"?

Jumper gets increasingly frantic and kinetic, culminating in a fight between David and Griffin (over some difference of opinion, I'm not sure what) in which they flit from continent to continent and move buildings. Stuff catches fire and explodes--what's a budget for? And the more the action speeds up the more pointless it all seems. The increasing use of CGI is one more thing that makes the locations seem a waste, since the resulting images are so artificial.

This is an adolescent fantasy so the boy has to have a mom and dad. The source novel is a book--actually this incorporates a sequel-- for young adults blending SCI-FI with the post-S.E. Hinton realistic mode. Young Davy's parents split up early on, and in the book the boy first took to jumping to escape from the abuse of his drunken father (Michael Rooker)--a cause that gives the story's escapism a far greater poignancy. The movie, with its focus on flashy visuals, "jumps" from chapter to chapter too fast for such subtleties to bloom. The screenplay--which winds up losing most of the humanity of Gould's concept--starts out with the girlfriend instead. David's mom is Diane Lane--and though she "cut out" when he was little, she knew about him all along. But Lane, as too often, is wasted here, her story squeezed into a little belated exposition.

Somewhere this David missed out on a good spanking. And the movie missed out on a good rewrite. I'm not saying Gould's are great books, but they do let you use your imagination and grant you some sympathy for the main character. Jumper seems a very hasty effort, as if the filmmakers were adolescents with ADD themselves and couldn't wait to get to their fat paychecks.

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