'Jumper' bounces around but never goes forward

Times Staff Writer

The science-fiction thriller "Jumper" is being marketed as a cross between the "Bourne" movies and "The Matrix." And sure, there's plenty of globe-trotting and an obscure mythology in place, and "Jumper" star Hayden Christensen does share a conveniently blank, otherworldly quality with fellow Canadian Keanu Reeves -- a trait that's balanced by the gravitas of a powerful African American actor (Samuel L. Jackson). But "Jumper" is all high concept with little invested in characters or story.

After a clunky introduction and voice-over by Christensen, the film leaps back eight years and we meet his character, David Rice (initially played by Max Thieriot), as a shy Ann Arbor, Mich., 15-year-old with a crush on classmate Millie Harris (AnnaSophia Robb). An incident with a bully reveals to David that he has the ability to teleport to anywhere so long as he can see the place or has a visual recollection or a photo.

After some rough landings, David masters the talent and recognizes it as his ticket out of a miserable life with his crabby dad (Michael Rooker). He relocates to New York City via a memory of visiting the Empire State Building as a child with his long-gone mother (Diane Lane) and reinvents himself as a bon vivant jet-setter (with no need for jets) funded by surreptitious visits to bank vaults.

Director Doug Liman, who did "Swingers" and "Go" before becoming an action guy with "The Bourne Identity" and "Mr. and Mrs. Smith," does a nimble job here, especially the opening sequences. David jumps through wormholes and there's some nifty stuff with the "jump scars" left behind, and Liman and his special effects team render them in jarring, frame-shattering fashion.

However, the script by David S. Goyer, Jim Uhls and Simon Kinberg, based on young adult novels by Steven Gould, squanders the tension created by the protagonist's realization of his power, primarily because the character is a cipher and kind of a weasel. There's no drive behind his choices and by the time his unauthorized withdrawals catch the attention of Roland (Jackson) -- a kind of time-space cop -- David's likability has worn thin.

Until this point, he's been operating in a world of no consequences, unaware that his ability is not unique. Threatened by the loss of his hedonist existence, what does he do? He inexplicably returns to Ann Arbor to look up Millie (played as an adult by Rachel Bilson). There's a wealth of possibility in exploring an ill-equipped young man with a supernatural gift, but "Jumper" barely scratches the surface.

Midway through, the movie gets a needed boost from the appearance of Jamie Bell as a fellow Jumper who educates David and the audience on the sketchy back story and Roland's gang of "Paladins." The groups' conflict is mercifully not depicted as strictly good versus evil, but time that might have been devoted to fleshing out these ideas is spent with David and Millie's chemistry-deficient relationship.

The filmmakers seem to be holding back, meandering to a conclusion that has the self-satisfied (and unearned) air of a sequel setup. "Jumper" seems half-done -- a long prologue building to a classic hero's journey or the launch of an antihero -- but comes to a screeching halt before it can begin either.

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kevin.crust@latimes.com

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"Jumper." MPAA rating: PG-13 for sequences of intense action violence, some language and brief sexuality. Running time: 1 hour, 32 minutes. In general release.

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