Another bucket of scraps thrown to the audience
Viewership for this year’s Oscars telecast was reportedly one of the lowest on record. While it would be easy to cheer this development if it evinced some public impatience with the event’s smarmy, self-congratulatory air or its sub-Busby Berkeley interpretations of theme songs, it’s less encouraging to discover that it was really the year’s honored films that had the average person switching over to NASCAR.
Say what you will about Hollywood, but last year it produced a number of intelligent, innovative films, all of which will probably only recoup costs once they’ve been shown in Europe, where the words “art” and “cinema” are not incompatible.
But, based on box-office returns, and not the sentiments of critics, can one blame Hollywood for deciding to return to the condition of a pulp mill? It is an “industry,” after all, and producers and studio chiefs are there to make money, just like any honest tent revivalist or card shark. Indeed, to speak ill of the suits at Paramount and MGM (or of the Reverend Pat Robertson and other con artists, for that matter), is really to expose your jealousy in not having concocted your own schemes to quickly divorce fools from their money.
In American parlance, the Coen brothers’ excellent No Country for Old Men was considered a “real downer” by the average popcorn-muncher — people who undoubtedly believe that their Wal-Mart paycheck was better spent on Knocked Up or National Treasure. For this pap-hungry majority, with its preference for the third-rate, Jumper should be a real treat.
As of this writing, Jumper has been at the top of the U.S. box-office rankings, taking in $56.3 million (938 million Kč) in two weeks. By contrast, PT Anderson’s highly regarded There Will Be Blood has made $35 million over nine weeks. So, what has the $56.3 million purchased?
To call Jumper mediocre would be unfair to those films that are honestly so. It is a paint-by-number thriller with sci-fi overtones that possesses no wit or invention. Were it not such an obviously cynical ploy to shake down the rubes, the project might be ascribed to atrophied imaginations.
The story, such as it is, concerns a subgroup of people (all young men) who, through some genetic flaw, are able to teleport themselves about the globe. As this gift bordering on omnipresence is considered far too close to one of God’s own specialized motor skills, a cassock-and-dagger fraternity called the Paladins is out to rid the world of the “jumpers.”
Our hero, David Rice (a stoned Hayden Christensen), loves nothing more than carefreely jumping about from the Sphinx to the clock face of Big Ben (which in this film is given to striking at 35 minutes past the hour). But soon he finds himself imperiled by a man named Roland (pity poor Samuel L. Jackson), who is the Torquemada of the Paladins.
David discovers that he’s not alone when a young jumper named Griffin (Jamie Bell, aka Billy Elliot) comes reluctantly to his rescue. But who are the Paladins really? When did jumpers first come about? Who is David’s mother? These and other plot holes promise to be filled in forthcoming sequels.
The performances are, with one exception, pulseless, especially the leading lady, one Rachel Bilson — a nullity who would be fortunate to make call-backs after a snuff film audition. As for the rest, including the fine Diane Lane, Jackson and the promising Christensen (who was very good as the “Dylan” in Factory Girl), one wonders what crimes they committed in their past lives to have reached this level of career purgatory. As for Bell, he wildly tries to overcompensate for the film’s relentless trivialities and lack of energy by eating the scenery.
The announcement of a renaissance in Hollywood was woefully premature, if not deluded. We are in no golden age of American cinema — and, if further proof were needed, it has been announced that ham Steve Martin will be returning again next year to further sully the memory of Peter Sellers’ Inspector Clouseau. It’s just giving the audience what they want. That it sounds like feeding time at the zoo is only accidental.
Directed by Doug Liman
With Hayden Christensen, Samuel L. Jackson, Diane Lane, Jamie Bell and Rachel Bilson