And here my love affair with Doug Liman’s films comes to a crashing halt. I still respect his rebelliousness and refusal to churn out a by-the-numbers action flick and suspect that Mr. and Mrs. Smith will come to be held in high regard in 20 years time but his latest output, Jumper, is a seriously boneheaded film.
The plot involves a snotty kid named David (Star Wars’ Hayden Christensen) who at age 16 developed the supernatural power to teleport himself from place to place as a way of escaping a schoolyard bully and his alcoholic father. The majority of the film takes place 8 years later, where David has grown up to be a bank robber with a plush NYC bachelor’s pad and the ability to sit atop the Great Pyramids and surf the Maldives all before breakfast. His life of hedonistic excess is put into jeopardy when a mysterious group of global watchdogs called Paladins catches on to his spatial transgressions. Led by the white-haired Roland (Samuel L. Jackson), the Paladins have been hunting down and killing jumpers since the middle ages, at least that’s what we’re told by Griffin (Jamie Bell), another stunted adolescent who shares David's teleporting ability and unpleasant personality.
Aside from the general illogical behavior and young adult fiction vibe (both of which I admittedly kind of enjoy) what shocked me about this film is its utter irresponsibility and teen-targeted nihilism. It’s one thing when Jason Bourne leaves a trail of destroyed cars and presumably injured or deceased civilians in the wake of exposing government corruption; it’s quite another when a pair of spoiled, immature, 20-year-old mischief makers traipse around the globe causing death and destruction with their every move. The mayhem begins with the wrongful incarceration of a childhood bully – slightly understandable – but the ill-treatment of innocent bystanders escalates at an alarming rate. It’s as if the filmmakers are trying to up the ante of reckless behavior without any sort of conscience. Most disgusting are instances of Griffin purposefully driving at high speed toward a woman with a stroller before ‘jumping’ to a different street, scaring a little boy by making eye contact and yelling ‘boo’ before ‘jumping’ and the most egregious example in which Griffin ‘jumps’ with a bewildered truck driver into an Iraq war-like setting with live ammunition and proceeds to casually walk away from the battlefield while a tank drives by in the background, crushing the truck and presumably the innocent driver inside.
There is an opportunity for the film to redeem itself in the third act but despite a few hints at a third act shift in audience identification, it fails to capitalize on its prospect. In the last thirty minutes or so, it becomes increasingly obvious that the film’s purported villains – The Paladins – are in fact the heroes, methodically hunting down and trying to stop these bank robbers and trespassers from wreaking havoc upon the unsuspecting world. And yet the film keeps asking us to identify with the snotty brats instead.
There is an unrealized irony about the ending in which David transports a ‘villain’ to a deserted plateau far out of reach from civilization and before deserting him says, “I could have left you with the sharks” as if to say, hey, I am a nice guy after all. What the film doesn’t seem to realize it is saying here is that the ‘hero’ is essentially telling the villain that instead of killing him swiftly he has decided to leave him to face a much more drawn out death that likely ends in starvation, dehydration or heat exhaustion.
Their unbridled lawlessness and general disregard for humanity would be acceptable if there was some buried allegory about the detrimental effects of absent parents on their children and the repercussions that effect the world on a global size. But other than a couple of comments that suggest the imperative of nurture for children aged five, any such commentary has been excised during the script rewrites or studio-imposed editing. I don’t want to blame Doug Liman completely for the disaster that is this film and if Fox allows him to release a two-hour director’s cut, I’ll happily rent it. I agree with London Student film critic Nick Jones who states, “Liman’s direction retains the energy and excitement of previous films, but fails to anchor the story in any reality or consistency.” Given Liman’s notorious track record for infuriating studio brass and having his films go through multiple permutations as he and the studio struggle to reach an agreement (Steve Fishman recently wrote a fantastic profile on Liman for New York Magazine), I hold out hope that Liman had at one point hoped to cast scorn on the Jumpers and reposition the reception of the Paladins in a remarkable third act twist.
I keep the hope alive because there are a still few murmurs of the awareness of the film’s disregard for humanity lurking around the edges of the film. For starters, there’s the definition of the word paladin. According to dictionary.com, Paladin can be defined as: 1. any one of the 12 legendary peers or knightly champions in attendance on Charlemagne 2. any knightly or heroic champion or 3. any determined advocate or defender of a noble cause. Given this understanding, the moniker Paladin is actually quite revelatory about the film’s moral positioning although the movie never spells it out as such and I confess I had never encountered the word before but still it does provide an indexical trace of filmic conscience. There’s also a scene early on in which David watches a news report about hurricane victims and the reporter pleas “there looks to be no way anyone can get here in time.” Fans of Superman might expect this to lead to David ‘jumping’ to the disaster zone and saving the day. But in Jumper we instead have David shrug, turn off the television and ‘jump’ to London so that he can go bar hopping and pick up girls. This scene could be usefully positioned as the setup for an interesting social commentary but from there on out the film seems to relish and even endorse David's increasingly solipsistic behavior.
The failed potential of this prospect comes back full force in the film’s final scene. How can one not be excited about the perversity of ending a big budget studio action flick that with the reunion between a mother and son that concludes not with an embrace but with the mother putting forth a legitimate death threat to her son. It’s just a shame the film gives off the impression it’s far too dumb to realize the subversive potential of this moment and is more interested in the glossy stereotype of having David embrace his love interest and 'jump' off into the sunset.