Wednesday, February 20, 2008


The previews for Jumper at first looked quite good. It looked like David Rice (Hayden Christensen) would be battling fellow jumper Griffin (Jamie Bell) in a teleporting battle of epic proportions. How exactly the Paladin Roland (Samuel L. Jackson) fit in was not quite clear but the general outline had Rice romancing eye-candy Millie (Rachel Bilson), protecting her from Griffin and maybe Roland working with Griffin to take down Rice.

The movie started out with a tough sell. Rice does a voice-over in which he says, "I was once a nobody...a chump like you" or something along that line but he clearly refers to the audience as chumps. Not exactly a great way to get the audience to empathize with him or root for him as the hero.

Flashback to when he is 15. He makes shy, awkward social gaffs that result in him being first ridiculed by the class bully and then him nearly drowning and accidentally discovering his ability to teleport. He leaves a gift so Millie knows he isn't dead and disappears from her life.

In another voice-over he says something like, "I was 15. What would you have done?" to justify his bank-robbery. So far they have not done a lot to endear this character to us. He has looked by turns arrogant, pathetic, and whiny. Not exactly the makings of a modern day Errol Flynn here. Then again, choosing the guy who made Darth Vader look like a whining, weak character to play your lead may not be great casting anyway...

The next few scenes show him touring the world. Leaving his New York apartment he appears on the clock hand of Big Ben. And this is one of the real problems with the movie.

They have no clearly defined rules for the jump. They say to jump you have to have been to a place before. Can someone kindly explain to me how he could have been on the hand of Big Ben in London? Or on top of the Sphinx? Or... but apparently, if you get CLOSE to a place and can SEE it, then you can jump there...sometimes. But only for certain lengths of jump...and SOMETIMES if something is in the way it will knock you down as the tree does to Rice when he is learning to jump. Oh, and you can also jump after someone who has just jumped by following their jump scar. Or you can jump if...

In other words, they set up the rule you can only jump to a place you have previously been, then get written into a corner or just want a shot of a guy hanging off the Big Ben clock or eating on the Phoenix and add that rule and so forth. So there is no rhyme or reason to when or where they can jump or why they can't jump.

Come to think of it, that describes most of the movie...there is very little rhyme or reason to things. Paladins hate jumpers because they can jump. There is a throw-away line that the Paladins are "right wing religious fanatics" and loose lip service is paid to that by having Roland say, "Only God should have that power" 2 or 3 times...but it is at best a very loose reason to chase Jumpers for hundreds of years. Very, very weak motivation. Yet someone is financing the Paladins as evidenced by their ability to fly around the world at a whim, drive very expensive cars, develop and use prohibitively expensive equipment. Other than having no believable motivation or source of income they serve only to provide foils for the jumpers. Without conflict there is no movie...

So just to hammer home the point that real motivations, believable actions, and coherent plots have no business in this flick Rice returns home to Detroit after 8 years and things pick up right where they left off 8 years previously. Mark Kobold (Teddy Dunn) recognises Rice, calls him names, acts like a high school bully...even though he should now be out of college. Millie, after not seeing him for 8 years, instantly leaves her job in the bar to fly to Rome with him...11 hours after meeting again they are in a hotel room together in Rome.

Now, I am a big believer in suspending disbelief in movies. I happily watched a semi outrun a collapsing freeway, a cab blow up a helicopter, a genius who could shut down the government send out his minions one by one in Live Free or Die Hard (2007) without batting an eyelid...because those things were internally consistent within the movie. Jumper did not bother with internal consistency...or, for that matter, having a likable main character. I would even argue the only LIKABLE character in the flick is Griffin.

After Griffin rescues (for no discernible reason) Rice and Millie from Paladins in the Colosseum and promises to help Rice (during a mad-cap, violent, bizarre car drive through China for no apparent reason other than to offer exposition) against the Paladins, Rice and Griffin separate; Rice to rescue Millie and Griffin to arm himself. Yet another inexplicable thing; in Rome Griffin packed a bat. For this he grabs...wait for it...a flame-thrower. Why would he not carry a gun some, all the time, knowing these Paladins are trying to kill him and he wants to return the favor? The baseball bat was fun but non-sensical. After an interesting battle in his lair with Roland Millie gets captured.

Griffin and Rice then argue over whether to bomb the Paladins into oblivion. Rice seizes the remote, Griffin chases him to get it back and they engage in an admittedly entertaining jump-battle over a remote that has a very strange ending that leaves Griffin theoretically alive, though incapacitated in an electrical transformer. Why does Rice turn on him? Sure, I get the "Millie will die if you set off a bomb" but several possible ways for them to still work together exist...none of which they examine for no apparent reason.

Well, after defeating Griffin Rice heads off to rescue Millie from the Paladins. Despite his skillful defeat of Griffin, he walks into a trap so elementary even Fettermen would have seen it coming. Whatever. He then proceeds to, without explanation, escape the devices that scramble his ability to jump. Again, no internal consistency.

Whatever. The heavily advertised, barely there Diane Lane, playing his mother Mary Rice, turns out to be a Paladin who will give him a head start. Nothing really says love quite so much as a mother saying, in effect, "Oh, I hate you enough to kill you but I will give you a head start in the chase because you are my son and I love you". So at the end of the movie Millie and Rice jump away knowing Mary will chase them, Griffin is probably still alive and will want vengeance, and Roland is still alive. So yeah.,..expect a sequel. Hope it is better than this one. And makes more sense.

Too bad. This could have been a great movie. It nearly was. The only things standing between this movie and greatness are sensible motivations, likable heroes, intelligent plots, internal consistency, good acting, and some relationship between the billing of the actors involved and the amount of screen time they get. Other than those things it was half-way to being perfect.

On the bright side, Griffin is just plain fun, the special effects are fun, and the premise is fun. So there is potential.

Definitely, Maybe

How do you turn the story of a guy getting divorced telling his daughter the story of his pathetic, failure-laden dating history and failed idealistic career that started in politics and ended in newspaper advertising into something interesting for the audience?

Flashbacks. Lots of flashbacks. Now, from time to time the flashback or the using of cuts from a fictionalized story to the "real-life" story can was used to good effect in The Princess Bride (1987) for example. Other times it is just annoying. This had a bit of each. Whenever they wrote themselves into a corner they simply flashed to "real life" and basically reset the movie.

Will Hayes (Ryan Reynolds) tries to be likable...but it is hard when he puts his career ahead of his college flame, cheats on every girl he is dating, and will give up nothing himself. There are interesting dilemmas such as when his girlfriend writes an ethically correct article that derails the chances for the candidate Will is working for...and he dumps her over it. Right? Wrong? There are several possible answers and Definitely, Maybe (2008) wisely does not try to answer it. Nor does it answer the brilliant question posed by Maya Hayes (Abigail Breslin).

First she asks why Will fell in love in the first place to which he gives a pat answer variation on, "she was smart, funny, and pretty" to which Maya asks something along the lines of "So when and why did she stop being smart and funny?"

There is no good answer to that one, is there? Sometimes I suppose it just happens. The movie never explores it but does come up with a typical improbable yet believable within the framework of the movie solution to make sure everyone goes home happy.

Abigail Breslin is turning into the go-to girl for sad-toned romantic comedies such as No Reservations (2007) and this...but she has the sad, pathetic look to go with it. She turns the mood somewhat more somber than it would otherwise be...though how happy you want a child to appear whose beloved mother was killed (No Reservations) in a car accident or whose parents are divorcing in this one is an open question. She does a creditable job, however.

The story, once broken down from the flashbacks, is pretty mundane and the interest comes primarily from the flashback angle. The acting is okay, with the best scenes coming from Hunter S. Thompson rip-off Hampton Roth (Kevin Kline). The cinematography is fine, not too distracting and overall, it is fine for what it is...a movie intended to make money by being released at the right time instead of by being a good movie.


Rambo (2008) has a unique feeling to it. That feeling builds if you saw Rocky Balboa (2007). The same paradigm is in effect here. An aging Sylvester Stallone is revisiting his star-making roles as John Rambo and Rocky Balboa to bring closure to them. Rocky was about leaving the character in a place the fans could feel good about. This time he was not helping someone else, he was the centerpiece of the movie and it showed that he was done as a movie character. Now Stallone wants to do the same for Rambo.

In this movie review you won't hear the names of any character or actor other than John Rambo (Rocky Balboa) because they are not important to the story. The missionary girl provides some undefined, tenuous reason for Rambo to dust off his trusty bow and go to war to rescue some other missionaries he doesn't like or care about. Along the way a few political comments are thrown in, mostly to the effect that people trying to do good deeds such as bringing education, religion, or medical help to people without packing guns are not changing anything.

Meanwhile, Rambo himself is a tormented soul unwilling to find out if he is able to go home and clear things up with his family. While he considers it he joins some mercenaries in a rescue of the captured missionaries, blows lots of things up, fires lots of bullets and arrows, rigs booby traps, and basically clear-cuts a few square miles of jungle with bullets and claymore mines.

After the blood it ends with him walking back up the lane to his United States house with the implication he is, at last, able to find peace with himself and at home.

As an action movie there is too much pondering and as a character study there is too much over the top action. As an end to the Rambo series, however, it fits and makes sense. If you are a Rambo fan this is a must-see, if you are an action fan it is a see on a slow night, and if you are neither...well, you won't like this much. Implausible characters, bad dialogue, confusing interactions, and cheap shots at good-hearted people just combine to be too much to overcome.