Given how thrilling a great sci-fi concept can be in the right hands, it's sad to see a promising idea like “Jumper” go off the rails. Part “Bourne Identity” and part “Matrix,” “Jumper” should have been a sleek and sexy new take on the genre. Instead, it comes off hollow and soulless, more about special effects than characters.
The idea is undeniably cool: After he falls through the surface of an icy river while trying to impress the girl he loves, David Rice (Hayden Christensen) finds that he can teleport from place to place — in this case, from the bottom of the river to the stacks of the Ann Arbor, Mich., public library — along with fish, ice and enough water to float a rowboat. Knowing he's got the keys to the kingdom, Rice runs away from home and his alcoholic father. He makes his way to New York City, where he soon starts using his newfound power to save puppies from burning buildings. Just kidding — he actually starts robbing banks, jumping into vaults in the middle of the night and cleaning out the cash. Fast forward five years, and young Mr. Rice is living in a posh Manhattan apartment stuffed to the gills with art, fine furniture, snowmobiles, currency, motorcycles and anything else that tickled his fancy during his world-hopping forays. One night, however, Rice comes home to find a stranger in his house, a man named Roland (Samuel L. Jackson), who we soon learn is the leader of a religious sect called the Paladins. For the last thousand years or so, the Paladins have been trying to rid the earth of Jumpers, thinking them an unholy abomination. To that end, they've got a number of cool toys, including an electrified lasso/web/net-thingy that Roland soon demonstrates on Rice. Narrowly escaping from Roland's clutches, Rice retreats to his hometown of Ann Arbor for the first time in years. There, he hooks up with Millie (Rachel Bilson), his love from back in high school. Before long, Millie and Rice are on the run, jumping to picturesque locations around the world and connecting with fellow Jumper Griffin (Jamie Bell) while trying to bring the battle with Roland and the Paladins to a final conclusion.
While all that sounds fine and dandy, the devil is in the details. And in the case of “Jumper,” we just don't get enough of them to plug the leaks in the dam of disbelief. For instance, while the character of David Rice is well written (it's nice that he doesn't take the unselfish superhero route), the whole concept of the Paladins — who they are and what drives them — is mostly left off screen. Ditto on the Jumpers. If the screenwriters were going to engage these groups in a centuries-old war, they might have done well to take a page from “The Matrix.” That film wove a real struggle between Agents/Machines and the Hackers, with clear-cut goals and dire consequences for failure on both sides. In “Jumper,” without that supporting framework to let us know what's at stake, the film mostly falls flat.
Overall, “Jumper” is a really cool concept that goes nowhere. If a sequel ever gets made (the ending surely sets up for that), maybe we'll see more of the crucial, missing back-story. For now, however, it's mostly like a so-so pilot for what could be a really great television show — one that doesn't quite have the legs to stand alone.