Slick but extremely slim, “Jumper” seemingly attempts to heed the advice of its teleporting protagonist, who at one point suggests a trip to Rome that will “skip all the boring parts.” Similarly eliding much of the exposition — or simply delivering belches of it on the fly — director Doug Liman churns out a serviceable sci-fi thriller/videogame template that plays like “The Matrix Lite” and, finally, isn’t nearly as cool as its trailer. Nevertheless, pic could engineer its own lucrative heist by zeroing in on young males itching for action during the traditional pre-Oscar malaise.
After an introductory sequence in which we see a teenage version of David Rice (Max Thierot) discover his strange power to instantly leap from one location to another, pic itself jumps eight years to find him enjoying the fruits of that ability. The world is almost literally his oyster, as David (now played by Hayden Christensen) flits to London for a one-night stand, escapes just as quickly to lunch on the pyramids and finishes the day surfing in Fiji — all financed via the banks he robs by zapping into the vaults.
OK, so that blue guy in “X-Men” did it first, it’s still a rather enviable talent, and one that can’t go unchecked for long. Enter Roland (Samuel L. Jackson underneath a shocking white mane, but otherwise in a familiar mode), a driven pursuer of “jumpers” who deems them “an abomination.” He is, we’re eventually told, a paladin, part of a shadowy group that has been pursuing and eliminating jumpers for centuries.
David picks up that useful info from another, more experienced jumper, Griffin (Jamie Bell, the grown-up “Billy Elliot”), but it comes a little late, inasmuch as he’s already jumped back to Michigan to reconnect with the dream girl from his youth, Millie (Rachel Bilson), whisking her off on an improbable European tour and inadvertently putting her at risk.
Having demonstrated his action chops on “The Bourne Identity” and “Mr. & Mrs. Smith,” Liman has fun with the initial exploration of David’s skills, which he shows off to Millie like a shiny new sports car. Although primarily shot in Toronto, pic boasts sequences in Tokyo, Egypt and Rome’s Colosseum, and the effects team (among them “The Matrix” alum Joel Hynek) pretty convincingly captures the lengthy roster of exotic locales, as well as images of jumpers dragging objects through their portals with them, which possesses a visceral kick.
Once the larger plot kicks in, however, the movie is a bit too chaotic for its own good, and its scope feels disappointingly small. Mostly, David and reluctant mentor Griffin take on what appears to be Roland and a handful of guys — more a skirmish than the historic “war” to which Griffin refers. The dialogue is also consistently clunky — a side effect, perhaps, of the sequential efforts of writers David S. Goyer (“Batman Begins”), Jim Uhls (“Fight Club”) and producer Simon Kinberg (Liman’s “Smith” collaborator) tackling Steven Gould’s young-adult novels.
Christensen exhibits a helpful vulnerability despite a thinly drawn character, with every role before and since his “Star Wars” experience providing further evidence of how poorly served he was by those movies. Beyond that, there’s virtually no time to add a second dimension to anyone (Diane Lane shows up in what amounts to a cameo), with Bilson’s adorableness doing most of the heavy lifting to establish a semblance of girl-in-jeopardy romance.
“Jumper” isn’t a bad time for what it is, but the movie itself plays like a preview of coming attractions. Indeed, given how the narrative speeds toward its tepid climax, the audience might be gripped by an underlying feeling the filmmakers almost seem to have harbored as well — a yearning to skip the preliminaries and jump ahead to a bigger, better-written, more satisfying sequel.