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Movie Review

Cleverness, Inspiration Propel 'Jump Tomorrow'

A talented cast skillfully juggles themes of love and self-discovery with humor and sensibility.

July 06, 2001|KEVIN THOMAS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Many try but few succeed as well as writer-director Joel Hopkins with his beguiling first feature, "Jump Tomorrow," in giving a fresh spin to '30s screwball comedy. His inspired sense of humor is equaled only by his inspired casting, and that's a sure-fire combination, especially when it's been blended with a warm, embracing sensibility and a jaunty score. It's very likely that Hopkins and his colleagues on both sides of the camera will be heard from again.

Tunde Adebimpe plays George, a Nigerian-born office worker at a Manhattan travel agency who wears a conservative suit and tie and is dutiful to a fault. Orphaned at a young age, George has been raised by his bossy uncle (Isiah Whitlock Jr.), who has arranged his impending marriage to a childhood friend of his nephew. As uptight and proper as George is, he arrives at the airport to meet his fiance's plane from Lagos on time--but a day late. When he calls his exasperated uncle, he learns that she has already made her way to Niagara Falls, where the wedding is to take place in several days.

George barely has a chance to let his mix-up sink in when a lovely young woman, Alicia (Natalia Verbeke), asks George if she can borrow a pen or pencil as she places a call. As open and relaxed as George is shy and rigid, Alicia invites George to a party. A spark is struck between the two that George reflexively means to extinguish. He is then thrown further off-base by Gerard (Hippolyte Girardot), an unprepossessing-looking Frenchman whose gorgeous young girlfriend has just dumped him and taken off for Paris.

The distraught Gerard insists on giving a lift to George, who soon figures that the best way to calm Gerard down is to take him to Alicia's party. The upshot is that the attraction intensifies between George and Alicia, even if she is engaged to her former professor, Nathan (James Wilby), a self-absorbed and slightly pompous Englishman. A couple of plot developments later has Gerard driving George to Niagara Falls, following the same route as Alicia and Nathan as they hitchhike to Alicia's upstate New York hometown to meet Alicia's family.

"Jump Tomorrow" brings to mind "Rain Man" in that, like Dustin Hoffman and Tom Cruise, Adebimpe and Girardot embark on a transforming journey. Just as Hoffman sticks an autistic savant's one-note tone and personality until the film's climax, Adebimpe maintains a deadpan expression almost to the finish even though he's undergoing increasing inner turmoil; just as Cruise must undergo a 180-degree change as Hoffman's slick younger brother who becomes a loving, responsible sibling, on a less intense level Girardot's Gerard comes on as a brash, pushy know-it-all womanizer whose rejection mellows him into George's loyal, caring friend.

The film comes full flower when George and Gerard--as well as Alicia and Nathan--wind up at Alicia's home, a combination residence and ethnic restaurant, run by Consuelo (Patricia Mauceri), Alicia's widowed mother, with whom Gerard shares a passion for cooking. Despite Nathan's presence, the attraction between Alicia and George grows ever stronger, but Hopkins keeps us guessing as to whether anything will come of it. Hopkins makes clever, recurring use of a telenovela to illustrate by contrast the lack of passion in George's life.

"Jump Tomorrow" marks the American film debut for Girardot, a popular star of stage, screen and television in France for more than a decade, and for Verbeke, one of the Spanish cinema's most promising new stars. As the title character in Hopkins' short "Jorge," from which "Jump Tomorrow" evolved, Adebimpe was an animation major at NYU, where Hopkins was also a student. A clay-animation specialist, Adebimpe may soon find himself switching careers.

* MPAA rating: PG, for thematic material, mild sexuality and language. Times guidelines: suitable family fare.

'Jump Tomorrow'

Tunde Adebimpe: George

Hippolyte Girardot: Gerard

Natalia Verbeke: Alicia

James Wilby: Nathan

Patricia Mauceri: Consuelo

An IFC Films presentation in association with FilmFour of a Eureka Pictures/Jorge Productions, Inc., production. Writer-director Joel Hopkins. Producer Nicola Usborne. Executive producers Tim Perell and Paul Webster. Cinematographer Patrick Cady. Editor Susan Littenberg. Music John Kimbrough. Costumes Sarah J. Holden. Production designer John Paino. Art director Gonzalo Cordoba. Set decorator Brenda Griffin. Running time: 1 hour, 36 minutes.

At selected theaters.

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