Fast is a good quality in an action/adventure. But there is lightning-paced and then there is warp speed.
Doug Liman's Jumper is the latter, a not-so-good quality in an action/adventure for the simple reason that the audience can't figure out what's going on.
Adapted from Steven Gould's young-adult novel, Liman's tale of the bookish high-schooler with unusual powers isn't a shot of adrenaline, it's an OD.
Mercilessly bullied at school and harshly treated by his single dad at home, David Rice dreams of escape.
To his amazement - and, initially, ours - he finds that he has powers of teleportation and can elude his abusers.
The first time it happens, he lands in the stacks of the public library. The second time it happens, he lands in his bedroom. When David is in conflict, he visualizes a safe place and - whoosh! - he's there.
Soon David is using this gift for his own material benefit. He beams himself into a bank vault, beaming out with sufficient Benjamins to live like a boy billionaire, a hyperspace cadet unrestricted by the space/time continuum.
David can surf in the Maldives by morning, party in London by night and take a break in between at the Great Pyramids.
Liman, filmmaker of The Bourne Identity and Mr. & Mrs. Smith, has made a teen mashup of his globe-galloping hits. But it lacks a character backstory as compelling as Jason Bourne's or stars with the charisma of Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie.
Jumper stars Hayden Christensen (bland as Anakin Skywalker in Star Wars, piquant as Stephen Glass in Shattered Glass) as David. Because his conflicts are so generically detailed (is Dad abusive because Mom abandoned the family?), we never get a handle on what's eating David Rice.
Nor does Christensen, teamed here with O.C. cutie Rachel Bilson, have the magnetism to draw us in. His David projects a sense of entitlement that makes him instantly dislikable. Here is someone with superpowers watching news reports of flood and fire casualties who are ripe for saving, yet he does nothing.
If Christensen underplays his role, the usually reliable Samuel L. Jackson - who, evidently, has stolen Uncle Ben's hair - overplays the antagonist with such fervor that Hormel should glaze him and can him.
The quality of their performances wouldn't matter if there were a narrative thread for the audience to grab onto. But for Liman, it seems, velocity is what matters.
Contact movie critic Carrie Rickey at 215-854-5402 or email@example.com. Read her blog, "Flickgrrl," at http://go.philly.com/flickgrrl/.
Directed by Doug Liman, from the novel by Steven Gould. With Hayden Christensen, Jamie Bell, Rachel Bilson and Samuel L. Jackson.
Running time: 1 hour, 28 mins.
Parent's guide: PG-13 (wham-bam violence, discreet sex)
Showing at: area theaters