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Teleportation, Paladins, and Underground Lairs — What Could Go Wrong?

Illustration for article titled Teleportation, Paladins, and Underground Lairs — What Could Go Wrong?

I'm going to lay it on the line for you: I can't resist a movie with Paladins in it. So as soon as I discovered that the bad guys in the movie Jumper were Paladins? Led by a white-haired, god-talking Samuel L. Jackson? Well, I forgave the flick for a lot of things I probably wouldn't have if the bad guys had been from the NSA or a group of supervillains. But you, dear reader, may not have a soft spot for Paladins — even ones with cool energy weapons and worm-hole expanders. And therefore you might be disappointed by lead Hayden Christensen's squint-acting methods, or by the fact that Jumper's plot moves exactly like its hero does: quickly, in random directions, for little discernible reason.


Based on a critically-acclaimed young-adult novel by Steven Gould, the premise of Jumper is instantly intriguing. A fifteen year old geek with a shitty home life discovers one day that he can teleport out of any situation and into the stacks of his local library. Then he figures out that he teleport into a bank vault, grab several sacks of cash, and teleport back out again into a life of New York luxury apartments and gratuitous surf sequences in Fiji. He can even use his teleportation power to finally beat up the jocks in high school who call him "riceball." (Why that's supposed to be so insulting is unclear.)

All this stuff happens in the first few minutes of Jumper, and there's a fun Spider-Man-discovers-his-powers feeling to these scenes as hero David Rice (Christensen) "jumps" his way into the life every teen outcast has always wanted. The problem is that we never advance much beyond that teen dream into the satisfying payoff of seeing him do grown-up stuff like trying to protect the innocent and fight for great justice. OK, maybe that isn't exactly what all grown-ups do, but it's what a sympathetic hero does. And David doesn't, even after he's become a hunky twenty-something with money and power.


Instead he steals more cash, teleports to London to pick up a chick whom he bangs and quickly teleports away from so he can catch some surf in the morning. So here's what we've learned so far: teleportation is the ultimate fuck-em-and-chuck-em power. Things start to look up when he meets leather-clad British punk Griffin, another jumper (mercifully played by a real actor, Jamie Bell). With Griffin's help, he figures out how to jump with cars and motorcycles and drive through walls at top speed. Sadly, though these powers look awesome, they don't make him a hero either. David spends the rest of the flick acting like a petulant, entitled yuppie who cannot believe that anybody - especially Paladins - would try to stand in the way of his selfish happiness. Even when he tries to grow a soul by finding his long-lost high-school love Millie again, he shows his affection by buying her lots of crap and then treating her like same.

The main plot arc of the movie, if I may be so bold as to call it that, is that David and Griffin are fighting the Paladins who want to kill them. Apparently Roland the Main Dude Paladin (Jackson) is part of a secret group who hunt down and kill jumpers because "they always turn evil." And after watching David in action, you kind of agree with him.

That said, there really is a lot to enjoy in this movie. The jump effects are cool, though not mind-blowing, and the car chases and fight scenes are good, comic-booky fun. Bell is terrific as Griffin, a jumper who lives in an underground bunker somewhere in the remote Egyptian desert and has devoted his life to destroying the Paladins. He even calls his home a "lair." But no matter how many references to Marvel comic books the generally-superlative writer David Goyer (Blade, Batman Begins) throws into the script, you won't come away from Jumper thinking that you've seen a new superhero in the making.

Instead, you'll feel like you've been adequately entertained for a nice 90 minutes - especially if you've only paid a bargain matinee price for admission.


Jumper opens tomorrow in theaters across the United States.

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Annalee Newitz

@JennaW: Sorry to say that a lot of the motives behind David's first jump are erased in the movie. Also, there is almost NO discussion of jumping into solid matter — nor is there much explanation of his powers except in maddeningly contradictory snippets.