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Theatre Review by Matthew Murray

On couch: Hee-Jeong Hwang, Cheol-Ho Lim, Hyun-Ju Kim, Young-Jo Choi. Front: Byung-Eun Yoo and Yun-Gab Hong.
Photo by Carol Rosegg.

The family that fights together survives their nights together, at least in Jump. The vague importance of family togetherness is about the only redeeming message of this latest action-heavy, dialogue-light spectacle to land at the Union Square Theatre. Otherwise, it exists only to give its audiences a kick. (The punches, leg sweeps, and wall-stomping stampedes are thankfully confined to the stage.) But though this evening flies through the air with great ease (and outstretched legs), it's seldom zany or mind-blowing enough to blast off.

This live-action Jackie Chan-meets-Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon outing imagines what would happen if a pair of overconfident burglars tried to loot a house belonging to a clan of Korean martial-arts experts. The answer, of course, is that the family dispenses its own personal brand of justice, dividing into as many combinations and executing as many of their trademark moves as the show's fight choreographer (Gye-Whan Park) and running time (90 minutes) will allow.

With blacklit and strobe-lit scenes, outright slapstick (only the cream pies are missing), and even a "Dueling Banjos"-style dance-off between two of the younger characters (the choreographer is Young-Sub Jin), it's clear that Jump wants to cover all the bases, which it does with an adequate amount of foreseeable flair. Director Chul-Ki Choi has made sure that happens in the most family-friendly way possible: Rather than dwelling on felling the interlopers, the family is more interested in confusing, containing, and converting them, even convincing the ne'er-do-wells to come over to the light and study the art of real self-defense - and, by extension, self-control.

It's all so nice, it's hard to shake the feeling that most of this exists to serve as a reminder to Jump's target audience of eight-year-olds that they shouldn't try this at home. Given the performers' obvious expert training and remarkable physical fitness (nearly every male doffs his shirt to reveal a chiseled midsection; the two women are themselves svelte and toned), there's not much danger of that. With no characterizations to speak of beyond archetypes of the traditional Korean family, few consistent actors from night to night (seven of the nine roles are double cast), and a story deriving most of its laughs from the dorky Son-in-Law becoming a world-class butt-kicker whenever his face-clinging spectacles come off, there's just not a lot to latch onto for the long term.

The routines' anemic nature is occasionally broken by some more-entertaining-than-usual bouts of audience interaction, which begin before the show does with an impossibly ancient man (an ingratiating Woon-Yong Lee) needing help from as many onlookers as possible to get on the stage. Random men and women respectively also get turns as a secret weapons broker forced into a game of one-upmanship with the family's show-off and as the object of the Uncle's frequently misplaced affections.

It's the unpredictability and potentially reluctant guest stars in these brief scenes that give Jump its most invigorating and distinguishing moments. Multiple takes and quick camera cuts can ultimately lead to far more elaborate battles on film than onstage. But dragging someone up from the comfort and supposed safety of their seat to participate in the madness themselves? You can't get that at the movies. Everything else, though, is only a Netflix subscription away.

Through January 6
Union Square Theatre, 100 East 17th Street between Park Avenue and Irving Place
Running Time: 90 minutes, with no intermission
Tickets online and current Performance Schedule: Ticketmaster

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