In Jumper, Hayden Christensen, more suavely chiseled than we’ve seen him before, his heavy brows and dark eyes narrowed to laser focus, plays David Rice, who discovers that he can teleport himself to any spot on the globe. As he passes through wormholes, or something, in the space-time continuum (though that’s more of an explanation than the movie provides), he leaps, at the commanding snap of his mind, from his dad’s working-class house in Ann Arbor, Mich., to the clock face at the top of Big Ben, or onto the head of the Sphinx for an impromptu picnic — sort of like what Elizabeth Montgomery used to do on Bewitched. He also isn’t above popping himself over to the refrigerator for a beer, or into a bank’s security vault to make off with mounds of cash, which is awfully convenient, since it allows him to live the life he chooses, complete with sleekly sprawling apartments in half a dozen cities.
If David did all this while wearing a skintight jumpsuit with a big lavender J emblazoned on his chest, we could probably call Jumper the lamest superhero movie of the year, and leave it at that. But David isn’t trying to save the world; he’s simply a guy on the move — an amoral globetrotter, flashing through space on his whims. The director, Doug Liman, once made a thrilling gem of a movie about testy twentysomethings who couldn’t stop moving — it was called, quite perfectly, Go — and you could say that Jumper also tries to tap the spirit of go-go youth. Except that there really isn’t a whole lot to David, or to anyone he meets. He takes the girl he has a crush on (Rachel Bilson) to Rome — to hide his powers, à la Clark Kent, the two fly there on a plane — but the actors don’t exactly strike sparks. On a tour of the Colosseum, he learns that there are other Jumpers around too, but mostly he’s a cipher loner bopping around in astrophysical limbo. When he crashes into downtown Tokyo, it’s just another backdrop, another hasty frequent-flier effect. For all that we care, he might as well be running in place.
Doug Liman is no longer the fresh storyteller he once was, but the trajectory of his career tells a story of its own. He has become a one-man paradigm of what’s happened to Hollywood, moving from character to pure kinetics. His first film, Swingers (1996), is still his best — a classic of tangy talk, of men behaving badly but doing it with chatty grace, in a hilarious neo-Rat Pack style. With Go (1999), Liman kept his pinpoint sense of generational ‘tude; when he followed that up with The Bourne Identity (2002), no one could begrudge this indie graduate the right to make a square-jawed action spectacular. But two years ago, with the love-is-a-battlefield Brangelina romantic comedy Mr. & Mrs. Smith, Liman overdosed on octane; there was something cheesy yet decadent about it, as if he had decided, halfway through, to say to the audience, ”Screw that nuance stuff! You know you just want to see things blow up!” Jumper feels even more chicly jaded. Powered by faux wide-eyed spasms of technology (the blurry images and mini sonic booms that signify David’s leaps), it’s the first Liman film designed to do little more than goose your motor impulses. There’s no real behavior, just endless movement brought off with empty crackerjack skill.
Liman, for all his craft, doesn’t have enough fun with the premise. Considering that fantasy and science fiction are now the air we breathe, we can accept David’s space-tripping abilities without blinking an eye, and I wish that he had something more exciting to do than stay out of the way of Roland (Samuel L. Jackson), one of a group of ”Paladins” who are devoted to wiping out the Jumpers because, in Roland’s words, ”Only God should have the power to be in all places at all times!” Jackson, wearing a faintly absurd silver G.I. Joe buzz cut, makes a Paladin sound a bit like the Bush administration’s idea of a terrorist: He hates the Jumpers’ freedom. Period. David also collides with a fellow Jumper, played by Jamie Bell as a kind of scruffy British Huck Finn-meets-’80s alt-rocker. Bell has a witty, insouciant presence; he doesn’t take any of this too seriously, an attitude that looks good on his squirrelly features. That’s more than you can say for Hayden Christensen, a gifted actor who tends to be at his best in films like Shattered Glass, when he can dip into an undertow of anxiety and low cunning. In Jumper, trying to be the coolest of skywalkers, he’s just a hollow contradiction, a stolid man in motion. C