Radically different as they are, Doug Liman’s agitated Jumper and Michel Gondry’s amiably limp Be Kind Rewind appeal to the same part of the modern couch-potato psyche—the part that dreams of sailing off the couch and merging with the action onscreen. Liman cunningly exploits our addiction to instant gratification: His hero can teleport himself anywhere, from two butt-lengths down the sofa to pick up the TV remote to half a world away for lunch atop the Sphinx. But Gondry, whose stumblebum heroes remake Hollywood blockbusters with one video camera and no budget, is the true transcendentalist. He wants to work through the standard-issue solipsistic superhero daydream and find, among pop-culture lovers, a source of communion. Neither film entirely works, but it’s fun to regard them side by side: a state-of-the-art escapist fantasy and its threadbare postmodern travesty.
Jumper isn’t explicitly about movies, but its reality is virtual. David Rice, played by Max Thieriot as a youth and Hayden Christensen when he’s taller and less expressive, grows up with a drunk for a dad (Michael Rooker) and no mom. And when he’s liberated by his ability to “jump” (there’s no explanation for his gift, but who needs one, really?) he does what any alienated youth with superpowers would do—move to New York and rob banks. Later they’ll pander like mad, but Liman and his screenwriters make a bracing joke out of David’s refusal to use his talents for “good”: He watches on TV as Katrina victims call for help from their rooftops, then jumps to England to get laid. But something terrifying stands between David and boundless self-gratification: a murderous sect of Jumper-hunters called Palladins, who catch their prey in electrified spiderwebs, proclaim them abominations in the eyes of God, and disembowel them. The Palladins are led by Samuel L. Jackson with white fungus on his head—either it’s the worst rug ever or Jackson is a mushroom from space.
Jumper is so in sync with the language of modern action movies that it’s possible to look past its soullessness and go with the quantum flow. Jump-cuts are the rule in thrillers like The Bourne Identity (which Liman directed). Here, the faster and choppier Liman gets, the truer he is to his hyperkinetic premise. Fisticuffs begin on one continent, continue on another, and end in a third: It’s Around the World in Eighty Blows.
It would have worked better, though, with a livelier leading man. What is it about Christensen’s voice that’s so dead, even without dialogue by George Lucas? Is he trying to suppress his Canadian accent? The one he uses is from nowhere, and it wipes out the impact of his eyes, which occasionally flash with authentic anger. David has a dull affair with Millie (Rachel Bilson), the girl who was nice to him in high school. (It begins after a bar fight, when Millie says, “You’re bleeding a little; we should take care of that”—has that line ever not been a prelude to sex?) But the big disconnect at the heart of Jumper is that a guy who doesn’t walk anywhere doesn’t have an ounce of flab and even jumps to Fiji to surf the big waves. His muscles should have atrophied years ago.
Jumper has a lot of buzz, but I can imagine near riots at the nonending, which plays like the fade-out of a TV pilot: Almost everyone is still alive and glowering. If you’re a Hollywood executive, you can’t just deliver a hit movie anymore; you only get the big bonus for delivering a “franchise.” But I can’t see people lining up for a sequel—unless Samuel Jackson’s hair grows out and marches on Tokyo.
I can see Mos Def affixing powdered Astroturf to his scalp to take Jackson’s role in the Be Kind Rewind remake of Jumper, hurtling through space after Jack Black—who certainly looks like a couch potato. Def plays Mike, a clerk in a dilapidated Passaic, New Jersey, video store that still rents tapes—because the owner, Mr. Fletcher (Danny Glover with convincing salt-and-pepper hair), is stubbornly behind the times. How’s this for a setup? Mike’s crazy-paranoid pal Jerry (Black) gets electrocuted, picks up a magnetic charge, and inadvertently erases all the store’s tapes. Because the building is on the verge of being turned into condos, Jerry and Mike have to keep the money flowing in—which means shooting their own zero-budget versions of FX-heavy blockbusters like Ghostbusters, Rush Hour 2, and RoboCop. It’s “let’s put on a show” as “let’s make a movie.” Because this is a fairy tale, the customers who rent these tapes don’t come back with baseball bats but with fervent requests for more remakes—or “Swedes,” in the film’s distinctive patois. All would go swimmingly but for Hollywood’s pesky obsession with copyright infringement.