Review: Jumper

It's quickly becoming evident that when an action franchise is handed over to director Doug Liman, the results are going to be spectacular. "Jumper" (IMDb listing) is the filmmaker's latest enterprise, and it's the type of head-spinning, duck-in-your-seat bullet of popcorn entertainment that could shake the winter blues out of multiplexes everywhere.

As a bullied teenager, David Rice (Max Thieroit) learns he has the ability to teleport throughout the world. Using his gift to rob banks and travel beyond the reach of the common man, David quickly understands how to control his powers. Now an adult (Hayden Christensen, in full puffed-chest mode), David finds himself targeted by Agent Roland (Samuel L. Jackson) and his army of Paladins who want to destroy all "Jumpers" and restore order to the world. David, caught up in a love affair with childhood crush Millie (a miscast Rachel Bilson) and introduced to a fellow Jumper named Griffin (Jamie Bell), now must fight for his life as the Paladins block his every move, pushing him to manipulate his powers further than he ever could imagine.

Adapted from the popular 1992 book by Steven Gould, "Jumper" is an 85-minute thrill ride that trusts the potential of the source material and bathes in its sincerity. It's not Liman's best film (that would be "The Bourne Identity"), but it demonstrates a certain skill from the director to create worlds of fantastical sights and sounds, yet ground them in an unsettling, but strangely digestible reality. "Jumper" is a sci-fi tale of wild abandon. It is a comic book shot out of a cannon, decorated with state-of-the-art special effects and furious action sequences; however, there's not a moment in the film where one doesn't buy the lunacy of it all.

Frankly, "Jumper" is a messy film, straining to rapidly establish David's powers and the peril he faces. It pushes much of the essential narrative to potential sequels. There's a part of me that adored this approach, if only because velocity is Liman's best friend. He's tremendous with pulse-pounding constructions of threat, and "Jumper" is crammed with moments of David leaping and battling his way out of a jam. Only in this picture, teleportation plays a crucial role: these guys don't just beat the stuffing out of each other, they cross all over the globe doing it, punching in Tokyo, kicking in Egypt, and throwing each other across Antarctic glaciers. It's amazing footage.

The teleportation sequences are the jewels of "Jumper," permitting Liman to swing his movie around selling the disorientation of the event. As the story progresses, Liman pushes down hard on the frenzy of David's powers, communicating the chaos of the Jumpers as Agent Roland begins his final assault. It's exhausting watching David fight for his life, leaving behind exploitable "Jumper scars" in the air, and trying to protect Millie from the Paladins, who are armed with lightsaber-looking devices that shoot electric spider webs intended to muzzle the Jumper's abilities. Liman pulls out all the stops for the finale, which is a dizzying smear of exotic locations, alliances, and PG-13 violence. As much fun as it is to view, I must admit to a tinge of nausea trying to take in the teleportation madness all at once.

In many ways, "Jumper" resembles M. Night Shyamalan's tranquil superhero origin tale "Unbreakable," eager to build a comic book personality of good vs. evil through plausible characterizations. "Jumper" is a little more on-the-nose with its fantasy intentions (David and Griffin compare their team-up as a "Marvel limited run series"), but the effort to cloak the artificiality helps to consume the myriad lightning-fast special effects and enjoy the picture's colorful twists and turns.

What exactly is Agent Roland's problem with the Jumpers? What's the secret of David's absentee mother (Diane Lane)? Does Griffin represent a larger community of Jumpers out there in the great unknown? You'll have to line up for the sequel for those answers, folks, since Liman leaves a horde of plot-threads dangling in the wind. The producers ache for a franchise out of "Jumper," and if the sequels are as much delirious fun as this soaring maiden voyage, it could be the start of something grand.

Filmfodder Grade: A-