Jumper: Read the Book!

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Doug Liman’s Jumper is an adaptation of a far superior novel by Steven Gould. It is a total travesty in terms of story and character – and will probably do well with the ADD crowd. Pity.

Steven Gould’s Jumper is a well thought out science fiction novel about David Rice, a kid who discovers he can teleport when his abusive father begins to beat him with the oversized metal buckle of his belt. Teleportation is just another way of running away from his problems, and it isn’t until he faces his personal demons [the abusive father; a mother who left home when he was five; a school bully who’s dating a girl he has a crush on, and so forth] that it shifts from just another way to run into the gift of freedom.

The movie, alas, barely hints at his father’s abuse; addresses the bully situation in a perfunctory way; turns the high school sweetheart [AnnaSophia Robb] into yet another Damsel in Distress, and totally undermines the reason for his mother’s leaving.

Instead, we get a few moments of young David [Max Thieriot] discovering his ability when he falls through the ice on the nearby river as he attempts to retrieve a snow globe of the Eiffel Tower from where the bully threw after he’s given it to the girl. Instead of drowning, he [and a ton water] are inexplicably in an aisle in the Ann Arbor Library! When his dad tries to force his way into the boy’s room [no actual abuse is seen onscreen – that would give some emotional depth to this mindless thriller], he again finds himself in the library.

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Before long, he’s moved to New York City, gotten a room in a fleabag hotel and robbed a bank of several hundred thousand dollars. Now he travels the world – doing things like eating lunch atop the Sphinx in Egypt. Naturally, he [now played by Hayden Christensen] returns home to hook up with the girl [now played by Rachel Bilson] and gets in a fight with the bully, Mark [Teddy Dunn, last seen regularly in the first season of Veronica Mars] that winds up with Mark in the bank vault and Millie off to see Rome with David [they fly – David doesn’t reveal his special skill to her… yet].

In Rome we meet Griffin O’Connor [Jamie Bell], another jumper [as he calls it], who is the one character in the movie who seems to be something resembling real. He tries to warn David that doing a lot of jumping is not smart [David has been jumping around to open doors that allow him and Millie to access the Coliseum’s off limits areas]. Next thing you know, there are people trying to kill him.

It turns out that this group [they call themselves paladins] have been killing jumpers since the middle ages [earlier, in the film – in one of the few scenes that doesn’t actively involve David] we see Roland [Samuel L. Jackson] kill a teenager with a big knife after telling him, “Only God should have that power!” Roland, then, is not a nice person. With his Antarctica-on-a-sunny-day white hair [stare at it too long and you’ll go snow blind!] and his natural Sam Jackson glare, Roland comes across as a Coles Notes version of characters we’ve seen Jackson play before – but he does surely get to chew up a lot of scenery.

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Directing in his now trademark kinetic style, Doug Liman provides a diet visual feast – looks good but is full of empty calories. The script – by David S. Goyer, Jim Uhls and Simon Kinberg – changes almost everything that made the book great or, [as with the abusive father] glosses over it in seconds. The reason the mother split in the book is many times more dramatic and important that in the film; the way in which David discovers his ability in the book is rawer and edgier than in the movie [where it’s a cliché waiting to happen]; the relationship with Millie is a dozen times more complex and interesting; Griffin isn’t even in the book, and oh, yes! They change the rules of teleportation – and even its physical manifestation. Then there’s the subplot involving terrorism [which ties into the mother’s arc in the book] and the NSA – gone! [Mustn’t have a movie that would make anyone think, now would we?]

In a nod to that NSA arc, Roland carries ID that presents him as an NSA agent – but also a CIA agent and an IRS agent. And haven’t we seen that stunt a few times too many?

As for the cast, when David shifts from Thieriot to Christensen, the character shifts, too. Actions that, in the book, made him seem intelligent, courageous and daring now make him seem like a whiner, a crybaby. Probably that’s because Christensen does most of his acting with his lower lip – the degree to which he’s pouting is supposed to represent how his emotions change, I guess. [This is one actor who does not make me glad he’s a Canadian…]. Bilson tries hard, but really doesn;t much to do of any importance, and Diane Lane is completely wasted as Mary Rice. Even a dependable character guy like Michael Rooker is wasted [and features in yet another nonsensical departure from the book, as David’s father].

Jumper is a patchwork quilt of core ideas from the book that have been taken and twisted/cut/replaced with little more than spiffy effects and super glue. If Jamie Bell wasn’t so alive and engaging as Griffin, there wouldn’t anything in this movie to cheer! So, if you’re thinking of taking in this flick, just read the book!

Final Grade: D+

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