Push (2009) / Sci Fi-Thriller
MPAA Rated: PG-13 for violence, brief strong language, smoking and a scene of teen drinking
Running time: 111 min.
Cast: Chris Evans, Dakota Fanning, Djimon Hounsou, Camilla Belle, Cliff Curtis, Ming-Na, Maggie Siff, Nate Mooney, Neil Jackson
Director: Paul McGuigan
Screenplay: David Bourla
Paul McGuigan (Wicker Park), promising director of the visually intriguing Lucky Number Slevin, returns with more of the same inventive style in Push, though to less successful results. The action takes place in and around Hong Kong, where former Americans have found themselves in hiding after a top secret government agency known as the Division keeps their existence under wraps). The Division's goal is to experiment on these people to amplify their abilities for use in Defense Department schemes, but they've yet to find the subject that could survive their enhancing experiments.
One such person in hiding is Nick Gant (Evans, The Nanny Diaries) who is a "mover," who uses his mind in order to control the movement of objects without physically touching them. As foretold by his deceased but gifted father, he befriends a young girl named Cassie (Fanning, Dreamer), whose abilities as a "watcher" allow her to see the future. Together, they are trying to trace the whereabouts of Kira (Belle, When a Stranger Calls), a powerful "pusher" (she can alter minds) who has recently escaped from the Division's experimentation lab. To get away, they are going to have to battle some very highly trained psychics led by tenacious Division agent and pusher extraordinaire Henry Carver (Hounsou, Eragon), who seeks to find Kira, as she is the only one to have survived the Division experiments.
Push is a derivative science fiction film that combines basic premises explored before in such films as Firestarter (from the Stephen King book) and X-Men (from the Marvel comic), and to a large extent, the television series, "Heroes" (a series which also borrowed liberally from "X-Men"). Secret organizations seek to control those with great powers to do their bidding, and experimentation often goes awry, leading to the protagonists to have to fight authority off at every turn.
For a film with such a sensational premise, quality special effects, good Hong Kong locale work, and an attractive cast, you would think the film would end up being a rather exciting entry, even if the premise seems overly familiar. Alas, it lies lifeless when it should be exciting, partially due to the fact that the story relies far more on plotting than it does on its own characters. At no time do we ever get a good feel as to who any of them are and just what motivates them. Perhaps the major impediment to Push's entertainment value comes down to pacing. For what promises to be a thrilling sci-fi actioner, it is surprisingly devoid of pulse-pounding action much of the time.
When McGuigan does go for some battles, they are usually prefaced with things which don't always inspire excitement, such as seeing Nick and other movers float guns in the air ahead of them that fire off rounds from a distance. One problem with this is that throughout the previous parts of the film, Nick has been shown as relatively unsuccessful in the use of his telekinetic powers, and then he suddenly can not only aim a gun in mid air with remarkable precision, he has the mental strength and stamina to be able to think and do other things while also having the fortitude to be able to squeeze a trigger.
Then there are intermittent music montages that offer no dialogue and don't push forward the plot. They do flash quite a few pretty pictures, but they also detract from momentum and focus, while also padding the film's length needlessly. Also padding the film's length are an inordinate amount of flashbacks to scenes we've scene earlier in the film. These scenes are ostensibly injected in order for audiences to better follow along to a rather murkily defined plotline. While this does offer some assistance, when a good number of these flashbacks are showing you things that haven't happened more than a scene or two before, it might be indicative that test audiences had a very difficult time understanding what was going during initial screenings. If you need to have a recap of a scene that you've just shown, you probably aren't doing a very good job in the storytelling department.
Not to pick on McGuinan as the source of the film's many problems, as it would have taken someone truly special in the directorial chair to make something out of a script that is left wanting. There's barely a trace of personality to the characters, and the humor is almost nonexistent. There's just little to hold our interest in between the occasional special-effects pieces and fight sequences, which, at 111 minutes, makes any excitement virtually flatline as the film progresses from initially intriguing concepts injected in a confusing, perhaps senseless plotline. The story crams in too many kinds of clairvoyants with distinct abilities, often referring to them before we have a chance to know just what they are -- sniffers, bleeders, wipers, watchers, movers, stitchers, shadows, and pushers -- it's a lot of powers to digest in a short amount of time. Surprisingly, we never really learn much about any individual powers other than what the plot necessitates at any given time.
Push had the tools to be a nice sleeper sci-fi hit, and enough talent to pull it off, but it never quite comes together in the way you ever think it should. If you've already seen the X-Men films and "Heroes" (the first season, anyway), you've seen the best of what this mini-genre has to offer already, If not, and the subject matter interests you, watch those instead of this fits-and-starts effort that offers little but throwing out interesting concepts that aren't explored to near enough depth to find interesting. Push offers promise, but little to keep you pulled in.
©2009 Vince Leo