Tunde Adebimpe, Natalia Verbeke

A promising debut from a filmmaker with a strongly developed visual sense and a solid grasp of character-driven comedy, Joel Hopkins' "Jump Tomorrow" recounts the chance meeting of two people about to be unwisely hitched and the circuitous journey they take to correct their mistake and get together.

A promising debut from a filmmaker with a strongly developed visual sense and a solid grasp of character-driven comedy, Joel Hopkins’ “Jump Tomorrow” recounts the chance meeting of two people about to be unwisely hitched and the circuitous journey they take to correct their mistake and get together. Expanded from the writer-director’s 1999 NYU short “Jorge,” the film threatens to derail early on with its unrelenting quirkiness. But it gets back on track and becomes increasingly disarming as it moves toward an uplifting conclusion, which may help it find a modest theatrical audience.

Romantic comedy is possibly the most hit-and-miss of genres. But despite some false steps, Hopkins delivers a genuinely charming example through the generosity and affection with which he treats his characters, a racially and culturally mixed bunch that could have seemed schematic and forced. Instead, the script playfully trades in certain national stereotypes to considerable comic advantage, giving the interplay between the central quartet some interesting kinks.

Story opens with mild-mannered George (Tunde Adebimpe) heading for the airport in Buffalo, N.Y., to pick up his bride-to-be, a childhood friend due in from Nigeria. When she doesn’t show, he learns she arrived the previous day and went directly upstate to Niagara, where the wedding will take place in three days.

Before he leaves the airport, however, George, who views the marriage as an obligation, has two decisive encounters. First is with Alicia (Natalia Verbeke), a cute, extroverted Latin girl who invites him to a party that night; the second is with Gerard (Hippolyte Girardot), a lovelorn Frenchman whom he consoles after his departing girlfriend’s refusal of marriage.

Unable to leave depressed Gerard alone, George suggests they go to the party, where his initial attraction to Alicia is confirmed. He meets her British lover Nathan (James Wilby) and hears they are relocating to Canada the following day, stopping to visit her folks at a border town on the way.

The early action in Buffalo affords some strong visual opportunities with the city’s kitsch retro architecture and sharp primary colors cleverly used to foreground bespectacled, buttoned-down, gray-suited George’s rather stiff presence. (Adebimpe, who played the same character in the original short, seems outfitted to resemble Sidney Poitier in “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner.”) But, technically impressive as they are, the neatly composed visuals begin to seem self-conscious until Hopkins starts focusing more tightly on his characters, which happens after the script hustles them out of town.

The film finds its feet when George and Gerard hook up again with Alicia and Nathan as they hitchhike north. In true French fashion, Gerard believes in love above all else — his vintage Citroen has “AMOUR” plates — and has decided to make George’s happiness his mission, becoming even more dedicated after an amusing French-British culture clash with opinionated bore Nathan.

When the group arrives at the home of Alicia’s family — who immediately identify the real romantic connection — all the comedy’s elements click beautifully into place.

An NYU animation graduate whose only previous acting experience was in “Jorge,” Adebimpe almost imperceptibly transforms his initially passive character during the delightful final act into a looser, less rigid man, able to take control of his future. Another side of George is revealed throughout in jokey fantasy interludes from Latin American soaps that recast him as a smoldering stud.

As the catalysts for George’s self-discovery, Verbeke and Girardot — both in their first English-language roles — have ample charm, and Wilby smoothly embodies the smug Brit.

Lenser Patrick Cady’s idiosyncratic framing and production designer John Panno’s vibrant color schemes and detailed sets give the film a distinctively hip look. Soundtrack effectively mixes John Kimbrough’s cheesy, tongue-in-cheek score with vintage and contempo songs.

Jump Tomorrow

Production

An IFC Films release of FilmFour presentation of a Eureka Pictures/Jorge Prods. production. (International sales: FilmFour, London.) Produced by Nicola Usborne. Executive producers, Tim Perell, Paul Webster. Co-producer, Jake Myers. Directed, written by Joel Hopkins.

Crew

Camera (Technicolor), Patrick Cady; editor, Susan Littenberg; music, John Kimbrough; production designer, John Panno; art director, Gonzalo Cordoba; set decorator, Brenna Griffin; costume designer, Sarah J. Holden; sound (Dolby Digital), Judy Karp; associate producers, Howard Gertler, Gill Holland; assistant director, Jeff Huston; casting, Ali Farrell. Reviewed at Sundance Film Festival (American Spectrum), Jan. 24, 2001. Running time: 95 MIN.

With

George - Tunde Adebimpe Gerard - Hippolyte Girardot Alicia - Natalia Verbeke Nathan - James Wilby Consuelo - Patricia Mauceri George's Uncle - Isiah Whitlock Jr. Heather Leather - Kaili Vernoff Old Man - Gene Ruffini Sophie - Abiola Wendy Abrams

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