by Sam C. Mac Film Genre Views

Push — Paul McGuigan

February 13, 2009

In Paul McGuigan’s dopey superhero techno-thriller, Push, the Asian mob bad guys’ superpower is screaming really loud. They would best be called “screamers,” but their “type” in the film is actually dubbed “bleeders,” as their banshee wails make their adversaries’ heads explode, and everything else within earshot (how pleasant). This stereotypical (intentionally so?), marginally insulting aspect is one of many, as Push traffics in uninspired and recycled superhero abilities we’ve seen a million times over in a bevy of other supernatural action flicks (X-Men, The Matrix, and last year’s god awful Babylon A.D., for example). The only thing that makes this movie just a tier or so above something like Doug Liman’s loathsome Jumper (besides the fact that there’s no Hayden Christensen in sight), is the sense that McGuigan’s intention to entertain is earnest, and that the guy actually has some talent; various visual ticks and tricks convince that Push has style and panache to burn.

In fact, the film starts out as at least a passable genre flick, with some striking individual scenes and mostly tolerable (if hollow) performances. Above all, just about everybody here is likable (even if Chris Evans is still not living up to the reputation director Danny Boyle insists he deserves). Set in China (because the city of Hong Kong is filled with enough shiny flashing lights to almost take our minds off the ridiculousness of this plot), Push finds Nick (Evans), a do-nothing slacker who’s apparently toiled his life away in a rundown apartment and racked up a serious bad debt with local Chinese gamblers, hiding out from a particularly nasty U.S. government agency (is there any other kind?), dubbed Division, run by smooth operator and “pusher” Henry Carver (Djimon Hounsou of Blood Diamond and Gladiator fame), who killed Nick’s father right before his eyes when Nick was just a boy. Carver, Nick, and every other significant character in the film is endowed with a “type” of superpower, and labeled accordingly. As the hurried opening narration fragmentarily describes, this all has something to do with experiments performed on humans by the Germans in the nazi era, and perpetuated now by our government. You don’t have to follow the film closely to know this much: As a pusher, Carver has the ability to put thoughts into other’s heads, and make them believe convoluted realities that aren’t really real (a tricky bit of tediousness which sinks the plot later on); Nick, meanwhile, is a “mover,” which as you may have figured out allows him to “move” (not to be confused with “push,”) objects and people with his mind (think telekinesis). Other freakjobs include Cassie (Dakota Fanning), the wise-beyond-her-years clairvoyant, or “watcher,” who foresees that everyone is going to die; and Kira (the lovely Camilla Belle), who just looks stoned through this entire thing. She too, like Carver, is a pusher.

The plot finds these three individuals (Nick, Cassie, and Kira) banding together with other beings of extraordinary power (one guy can shape-shift objects, another can cloak the existence of a person or place– ‘shifters’ and ‘shadows,’ respectively) in an effort to take down Division and stop Carver from using some kind of superhuman serum to….zZZz. Basically all you need to know is that there’s a lot of fighting and special effects, which is what this clumsily plotted actioner would have done well to stick too. In fact, this thing really only pulls, or you could say pushes, its own weight during some of the early action scenes — by the latter point, one’s head aches too much to appreciate them — and undoes even that amount of good will when the two pushers start to duke it out in a mental struggle for pushing supremacy. Did he push her to think that about herself? Is it true? Or is she pushing him to push her to think it’s true? Don’t know, don’t care. Too much of the back half of Push is predicated on inane and convoluted twists and subplots and twisted subplots, that eventually you just feel like you’ve been pushed too far.