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Dustin Putman

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Push  (2009)
2 Stars
Directed by Paul McGuigan.
Cast: Chris Evans, Dakota Fanning, Camilla Belle, Djimon Hounsou, Cliff Curtis, Xiao Lu Li, Haruihko Yamanouchi, Ming-Na, Nate Mooney, Maggie Siff, Corey Stoll, Scott Michael Campbell, Colin Ford, Joel Gretsch.
2009 – 111 minutes
Rated: Rated PG-13 (for violence and brief strong language).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman, February 6, 2009.
"Push" isn't based on a comic book, but, like TV's "Heroes" (which this film owes a great deal to), it seems as if it should. The scope is ambitious, and so is the direction by Paul McGuigan (2004's "Wicker Park") and screenplay by David Bourla. In less than two hours, a lot of background exposition must vie for time with the central conflict and storyline without the whole enterprise getting bogged down in monotony. On these grounds, the picture is successful. Unfortunately, the general premise has a been-there-done-that feel that never wholly comes into its own, and the amount of plot strands left hanging by the end feels like a cheat. If this is intended as a setup for a sequel, then the makers are mighty presumptuous and not playing fairly.

In a world where a small portion of the population hold extraordinary powers, an organization within the government known as "The Division" has created a serum intended to boost their abilities. Instead, it has only killed them. The sole survivor is Kira Hudson (Camilla Belle), a "Pusher" (i.e. someone with the ability to burrow inside other people's minds) who escapes the facilities with a suitcase that everyone seems to be after. As the government agency led by Henry Carver (Djimon Hounsou) set off to track Kira down, so, too, do Nick Gant (Chris Evans), a telekinetic "Mover," and 13-year-old Cassie Holmes (Dakota Fanning), a "Watcher" who can see into the future. Nick and Cassie, total strangers at the onset, meet in Hong Kong with their fates already aligned, if not set in stone. As Kira eventually takes up with them, "The Division" closes in, and a deadly crime ring also in search of the suitcase moves closer, Nick and Cassie are faced with a life-or-death situation. Cassie's visions point to death, but she also knows that she's closer than she's ever been to finally saving her imprisoned mother.

As one can probably divulge from the above synopsis, "Push" is a tad on the convoluted side. Rest assured that the film is more difficult to explain than to understand, but also be prepared for it to not have a conclusion. Half of the characters' motives infuriatingly still dangle in the air by the closing credits, something that director Paul McGuigan should have tried to avoid. What ever happened to the days when a movie told a complete story from beginning to end? "Push" appears to be missing its third act, and it's a terrible shame because what there is of the movie is pretty engaging. The diverse characters show much promise, the story is dealt with in a serious and semi-plausible manner rather than as out-there sci-fi, and the cinematography by Peter Sova (2008's "The Strangers") of on-location Hong Kong is fluid, textural, and frequently close to breathtaking. Kudos, also, for action scenes that are shot with a strong grasp on editing and coherence over the usual fast-cut, shaky-cam style that so many filmmakers fall into the trap of these days.

Chris Evans (2008's "Street Kings") plays the leading protagonist—in the prologue set ten years earlier, a young Nick watches his father get gunned down after being given clairvoyant words about his future—but it is the limitlessly talented Dakota Fanning (2008's "The Secret Life of Bees") who acts circles around him. As the wise-beyond-her-years, short-skirted, pink-haired Cassie, Fanning just about proves once and for all that she can do anything in front of a camera and sell it. It was difficult to envision the actress holding a gun and basically portraying an action heroine before seeing it with my own eyes, but she does all of that and more, and still develops a fairly complex individual. This latter achievement is especially impressive considering not much detail is provided about how Cassie, still a kid, has found her way to Hong Kong and been able to live on her own and have money in her purse. As the elusive Kira, Camilla Belle (2008's "10,000 B.C.") is physically striking, but not always dramatically sound in her reading of a character who doesn't truly know who she is. Finally, Djimon Hounsou (2008's "Never Back Down") makes no impression at all as the central authority-figure-cum-villain; he might as well have not bothered showing up.

Watching "Push," the viewer is free to get caught up in the exotic surroundings; Hong Kong is shot from all angles as a gritty, exuberant world unto itself. Growing to care about the human element is a tougher sell, not because the characters aren't worthy or likable, but because there is little payoff to them or their relationships. Instead of spinning a tale with a beginning, a middle, and an end, director Paul McGuigan is distracted with the possibility of having a franchise on his hands. Thus, as a whole, "Push" feels unfinished, its ultimate destination accounting for nothing more than a shrug. There is a fair amount to like here, and just as much to resent for how much better it could have been.
© 2009 by Dustin Putman
Dustin Putman