Derry~Londonderry has never looked so beautiful as in Keiron J Walsh's high-octane new feature set in the City of Culture
If a film plays in the Movie House Cinema and there is no one there to see it, does it still make a splash? It’s a melancholy image: low budget, independent films being shown to rooms full of empty cinema seats as Pearl & Dean echoes forlornly off the walls. There’s probably a film in that: a low budget one no one would watch.
Such lack of interest is particularly unfair on a film like Jump, which is at least trying to be good. It's a Northern Irish film that doesn’t rely on the Troubles as its dramatic heart, and looks very much like a love letter to Derry~Londonderry, the city in which it is set. We could be nowhere else – the very first scene show us the lights on the Peace Bridge, glinting like a dewy constellation as brooding, time-lapsed clouds whip across the sky.
It is dawn on New Year’s Day and Greta (Nichola Burley), depressed beyond endurance, is about to hurl herself into the inky blackness of the River Foyle. 'I've never understood the fuss about New Year's Eve. All that hope for the future...' Then blood-spattered fly-poster, Pearce (Martin McCann) intervenes, and an unlikely romance blooms.
As the film’s pivot, around which all of the action takes place, Greta and Pearce are suitably blank – she numb with depression, he concussed and fixated on the disappearance of his brother. They are as dull as those other star-crossed lovers, Romeo and Juliet.
(Greta’s angel wings, incidently are surely a nod to Baz Lurhmann’s R&J adaptation, though the scene more closely parallels, and reverses, It’s a Wonderful Life: our hero coming across an angel about to throw herself off a bridge).
In Romeo and Juliet, it’s the other characters that amuse and engage: would you rather hang out with Romeo or Mercutio? Juliet’s fine and everything, but it’s her Nurse who seems more of a laugh. Yet the supporting roles in Jump are pretty one-note.
Local hero and The-Man-Who-Would-Be-Hooley, Richard Dormer, is given very little to do as Johnny, tormented ex-gangster pulled in by Greta’s criminal father, Frank (Lalor Roddy) for one last job. His henchmen pals are presented as idiots; Thomson Twins of thuggery, bumbling and venal. With their limps and facial scars, the characterisation here is as skin-deep as the prosthetics.
The film’s final double-act, Greta’s friend’s Marie and Dara (Charlene McKenna and Valene Kane) have their own peaks and troughs, but while Kane is effective in a role that asks her to do little but wear a short skirt and get drunk, McKenna is cast as the sympathetic friend, the most sophisticated and nuanced role in the film.
That she acquits herself well is a headache for director, Kieron J Walsh, who can’t have it both ways: either your characters are chess pieces to be whipped around the board, or they are engaging and emotional with a story to tell. As the beating heart of the film, McKenna is excellent, but finds that in the end she also has very little to do.
The chase scenes resemble a low octane Chemical Brothers video: slow paced, clip-clopping feet sparking wet tarmac. And if there is a major issue with the film it is the pacing. Walsh has a fine eye for composition and a bulging director’s bag of tricks, tastefully deployed, but when it comes to cranking up the jeopardy, all of the fast cutting and precariously angled cameras don’t seem to shift the action out of first gear.
Jump seems doughy and ponderous where it should be Jack be Nimble quick. The plot also hinges on a bewildering amount of coincidences to get all of the characters to the right place at the right time (everything taking place on New Year's Eve, with the clock ticking down towards midnight). This is a Chinese box-puzzle of improbability; everything dovetailing neatly, a flat-pack of unlikelihood.
On the plus side, Jump rarely displays its theatrical origins (Lisa McGee's play having been adapted for the silver screen by Walsh and Steve Brookes). It never feels set-bound, and the dialogue is anything but stagey. The photography is beautiful throughout, all sodium flares and rich aquamarines, and the direction is always effective, especially on establishing and background shots of the city where Derry~Londonderry looks as showily sexy as Dara’s thighs.
Jump is on general release now.