Sometimes, even The A.V. Club isn't impervious to the sexy allure of ostensible cultural garbage. Which is why there's I Watched This On Purpose, our feature exploring the impulse to spend time with trashy-looking yet in some way irresistible entertainments, playing the long odds in hopes of a real reward. And a good time.
Cultural infamy: Critics didn't like Jumper, and it doesn't appear to be the kind of movie that anybody's going to be thinking about six months from now. (Or even right now, come to think of it.) It did respectable box-office, but it was released earlier this February, when competition from other popcorn flicks was virtually nonexistent. It seemed designed in every way to make a little cash and then be quickly forgotten. Worldwide, it has brought in $221 million, which is more than I will ever bring in, but that still isn't enough to let it crush its way into the cultural zeitgeist. (Still, Jumper 2 is already in the works, so somebody must've liked it.) It got a 35 on Metacritic, with the highest rating being a 67 from the Portland Oregonian, which qualified a semi-positive review by calling the movie "sexless and humorless." Our own Tasha Robinson, who doesn't like half-stupid movies nearly as much as I do, gave it a C-, but her review made me want to see it all the more. Rotten Tomatoes—a very stinky 16 percent.
Curiosity factor: I'm gonna share something with you about myself. I am 34 years old, recently married, and with what most people would consider a solid job. In other words, I am a grown-ass man. But somewhere in my psyche lives a 12-year-old who can't help but get a little excited by the idea of a dude teleporting around the world and stealing shit. That's essentially all I knew about Jumper going in, but its main conceit was enough to get me excited. I knew Hayden Christensen was going to suck donkey ass, because he's just a terrible actor. I knew that somehow the filmmakers would screw things up by trying to have a love interest, and by trying to make the protagonist learn something about keeping his powers in check. But that premise—dude can teleport, and then other dudes try and stop him or something—had me ready to pop the DVD in no matter what. Also, I can't help but think about the 1980 movie The Girl, The Gold Watch & Everything, in which Robert Hays inherits a watch that can stop time. When I was a kid, I wanted the fuck out of that watch.
The viewing experience: Before I even pressed play, anticipating watching Jumper infected my brain with the chorus of Third Eye Blind's horrible anti-suicide song "Jumper." ("I wish you would step back from that ledge, my friend.") That song, in turn, always makes me think of the even more horrible "You're Only Human (Second Wind)" by Billy Joel, which features one of 1985's most annoying God-complex videos—a guy is having a bad day, so Billy Joel sings him a jaunty song, and he doesn't want to jump off a bridge anymore. And to think, people whose opinions I respect have some admiration for Billy Joel.
Anyway, on to the jumping that doesn't kill you—the teleporting kind! The DVD menu for Jumper doesn't say "play," it says "Initiate Jumper," which is another sign that this movie is probably aimed at teens. I did not hesitate to initiate Jumper. I almost immediately heard the disembodied voice of Hayden Christensen telling me his backstory—where he's been that morning, etc. He sounds remarkably like that increasingly arrogant Anakin Skywalker fellow. "Once I was a normal person, a chump just like you," he sneers, managing to overact even while not onscreen.
And then we don't even get to see Hayden for 15 minutes. It's history time first, with some high-school experiences that shape our young hero: He's in love with little Millie, and he gives her a snowglobe because he knows how much she wants to travel the world. A mean ol' bully throws the globe onto a barely frozen river, and when young Hayden makes the dangerous trek to fetch it, he falls through the ice and almost drowns. The only thing that saves him? You guessed it, he teleports his way out, ending up in the library.
How do you, the viewer, know what just happened, besides the fact that you're at a movie about a teleporting kid? How about this line of amazing dialogue: "Did I just teleport? I teleported to the library!" So now you know that he a) teleported and b) teleported to the library. Another clue that he teleported to the library: He just appeared in a big room filled with books. Our hero—his name's Davy Rice, but the bully calls him Rice Bowl—decides to leave small-town Michigan with his newfound powers. But first he must learn how to use and control them, which he does in a park. How do you, the viewer, know that he's learning to use and control his powers? Here's some Neil Simon-level shit: "How does this thing work? How do I control it?"
Of course, he learns to control it and use it, and the first thing he does is start robbing banks. This is the part of Jumper I was slightly excited about: What would you do if you could just pop in and out of any part of the world? Probably some cool shit, right? Apparently not. You'd gather a bunch of money, and then eventually grow up to be Hayden Christensen. And continue to rob banks, even though you already have a killer pad and a ton of cash hidden in the walls. But you shouldn't rob too many banks, because Jesus Christ, somebody's gonna figure something out at some point. (But not soon enough—Jumper drags when it should be jumping.)
Instead of showing us all the magnificent things Davy can do with his power, we see him wandering around his house, taking a shortcut to the remote control, etc. It stops just shy of him teleporting to the toilet to take a shit, but you can fill in that blank yourself.
Aside: How, how, how did the music supervisor on Jumper miss the opportunity to use House Of Pain's "Jump Around" in the entire movie? S/he could've used that song in every scene.
Eventually we meet Samuel L. Jackson, who is once again playing his bad-ass self, only this time he's got white hair and a mean streak. (Sam Jackson cheat-sheet: If he has a 'fro and a gun, you're watching Pulp Fiction. If he's limping, you're watching Unbreakable. If he's sweating and bluesy, you're watching Black Snake Moan. If he's wearing a brown robe, you're watching Episode III.) He catches another jumper (you mean there are more?) and stabs him in the chest, teaching the audience that jumpers can be temporarily stopped with electric shocks. As you can guess, this will be important later, so Jackson says, "It's kinda hard to jump with a thousand volts running through your brain." And then, in case it isn't clear that he has harsh feelings toward those who can teleport, he says, "I hate jumpers." We also come to understand that Jackson has religious motivations for this hatred: "Only God should have the power to be all places at all times." Heavy. Of course, Jackson and Anakin must meet and have a little fight.
Oh, I forgot to mention that for some reason, jumpers also seem to have superhuman strength and kick-ass fighting abilities, even the ones that have basically just been fucking around and getting rich for 10 years.
For some reason, maybe because now his life is in danger, or maybe because there's not enough plot here to sustain anything nearing feature-length, Hayden/Davy/Anakin heads back to Michigan to pursue his true love, snowglobe girl. She's tending bar at some shitty place, and he sweeps her off her feet by taking her to Rome, where she's always wanted to go. They end up at the Coliseum, where for some strange reason, Italian authorities saw fit to allow Jumper to film a fight scene.
Here, though, we learn some key shit: There's another jumper following Davy, and he's played by Brit Jamie Bell, a.k.a. Billy Elliot. For some reason, Davy doesn't tell Millie about his superpower, which seems a little out of character. When he starts blasting through walls, she realizes this is all a little too good to be true. They end up arrested, and Diane Lane—Davy's mom, who abandoned him at age 5—appears and tells him to run away. He doesn't seem that surprised to see her, but I'm kinda sure that Hayden Christensen was absent during the acting class in which they covered surprise. (He was like the Ferris Bueller of acting school.)
At this point, you may be longing for some explanation. Who are these jumper-hunters? Why do they give a shit if some teleporters are having some fun and robbing banks? ("Your money is insured by the federal government. We want to hurt no one." —Robert De Niro, Heat.) Get this—it turns out that they want to kill them because they don't like them! Billy Elliot explains:
A light goes on in Hayden's head, and he realizes that baddy Sam Jackson will probably go after his family. When he gets back home, he finds his pop (Henry: Portrait Of A Serial Killer's Michael Rooker) dead. His ladyfriend is still on a plane, so he decides he's gotta kill Sam Jackson before Sam can kill his lady. Makes sense, right? Hayden is the one with the superpower! Pop in, shoot him, pop out. Element of surprise, my friend—he has it all!
But he doesn't use it, because he is a stupid, stupid superhero. Hayden goes to explain everything to the girlfriend, and when Sam Jackson telegraphs his entrance by generally making a ruckus, Anakin doesn't jump away with his princess, he gets all nervous and tries to interject some comic relief when it's needed least.
So Davy just waits until the baddies get there, at which point we learn that the non-jumpers have some sort of machine that they can use to follow the jumpers through wormholes! (They haven't even been called wormholes until this point.) This of course makes no sense, but it does make a better movie, because Jackson and his Paladins (did I mention the baddies were called Paladins? Did the movie even mention it before now?) can now follow them to the Egyptian pyramids for big fights. Eventually, in pretty much the only really clever use of jumping in the movie, Jamie Bell jumps a bus from a busy city street into the desert, nearly crushing Jackson. (But not actually crushing him, because a) this is a PG-13 movie and b) there's already a sequel in the works.)
At some point in here, there's a half-hearted excuse for Anakin and Billy Elliot to fight each other, and they end up on top of a pyramid. Because why not, really.
In a strange little coda, Billy tracks down Diane Lane, who hopefully got paid a ton of money for the five seconds she's in this movie. Turns out she's a Paladin, and she abandoned him as a child when she realized he was a jumper—because she didn't want to have to kill him. Awwwwwww. What are the chances, right? It's like a Hatfield giving birth to a McCoy or something. Or a snake having a rat baby.
And then it ends, with a big ominous scene that specifically promises a sequel. The source material—a novel by Steven Gould—was thrown out of the window for this movie, and director Doug Liman (Swingers, The Bourne Identity) has hinted that in future installments, jumpers might not just be able to travel through space, but through time as well. Speaking of time
How much of the experience wasn't a total waste of time? Not much, I'm sorry to report. It wasn't painful, and though it dragged at points, there was zapping and jumping enough to keep it very, very mildly interesting. I'm gonna say 10 minutes (about 11 percent), which is hardly a recommendation, but also probably enough to get me to watch Jumper 2 on purpose. But seriously, guys, find Eminem—who was reportedly considered for the lead—and re-cast this thing.