2/9/09

Review: Push (2009)


Push looks pretty cool, and has a not-bad premise, similar to the TV shows "Heroes" or "Tomorrow People." The specifics of this premise are explained in a painfully boring and unimaginative opening narration/montage by Dakota Fanning, who plays Cassie Holmes--get it, Cassandra?--a "watcher," or psychic who can tell the future.

There are also "pushers," with telekinetic powers, "shadows," who can make people invisible to psychic or other detection, "shifters," who can make object look like something else, "sniffers," who can smell something and get psychic impressions off of it, "screamers," who can break stuff and kill people by yelling (like in Kung Fu Shuffle), and then there are goofers, spoofers, tweakers, eekers, uppers, downers, passers, runners, geekers, anklers and prancers. Or something. (And if you think I'm just being sarcastic, watch it yourself--Fanning trails off listing them all in a similarly disinterested way.)

See, the Nazis got together and tried to make superpsychics for wartime use during World War II. (This is the same Nazi unit which gave us the dybbuk of The Unborn, Hellboy, and who gave Indiana Jones so much trouble about the Ark, the Holy Grail and the crystal skull, presumably--they must have found Elijah's chariot wheel and translated themselves directly to heaven, leaving Hitler to die ignominously in his bunker.)

Every government since has been doing the same thing, kidnapping every superkid (or adult) they can find and giving them a drug designed to enhance and harness their abilities, but which actually kills them. Kills them, you say? Then what use are they as superpsychics? Good question. But this film clearly states that they've all been killed by experimentation--every one--until the start of this movie, set in the present. Imagine explaining that black ops line on the budget to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence year after year. "Yes, Senator, they're all dead. Every single one we've tried to alter chemically. Now we need $100 million to kidnap a new batch. Results? What do you think we've been trying to get for 50 years?!"

This does not seem to bode well for the rest of the movie's logic, and indeed, that turns out to be the case. This is a grim, confusing and often boring film that makes little sense.

The action of the film begins with Nick (played as an adult by Chris Evans) as a child, and his father, both "pushers," being chased by Henry Carver (Djimon Hounsou) and other agents of "The Division," the government agency in charge of rounding everybody up. Carver himself has the power to put thoughts and memories in people's heads so that they think they are their own.

Before meeting his certainly bad fate, Nick's father tells him he loves him, and that if a girl ever gives him a flower, he should help that girl out, to help everybody in the world. This is probably not bad general advice for almost anyone, and indeed is suspiciously like a Paul McCartney lyric, but no, his father means a very specific girl with a special role to play in saving herself, Nick and other psychics of the future. Then his father tells him to run away and "pushes" him out an air duct with his superpowers, because this looks cooler than just having him crawl.

And we haven't even gotten to the MacGuffin yet! This turns out to be a suitcase with a syringe of the now-non-deadly serum, which everybody wants--Kira, the first person to survive being injected with it, to save her own life with a booster shot, the Pop Family, a Hong Kong triad of superpsychics, who seem to want to sell it, The Division, who can't afford to let it leak, and our group of heroes, including Nick and Cassie, who have been commanded to find it by their parents in order to free the renegade psychics from government control for good.

Some of the fight scenes are good, and the production quality is top-notch, but the story is so grim, convoluted and ultimately nonsensical that the viewer gives up on the logic long before the film reaches its conclusion. The visual power of the fight scenes with their pretty neato effects is diluted by the mental calculus one must do to try to match up the combatants powers to predict an outcome. Unlike in "Heroes," where the characters and their powers are set up gradually and firmly so that interactions can make more sense to the viewer, in Push, there are just too many conflicting characters and powers in too confined a narrative space to follow it all. Poor Nick gets beaten to a pulp so many times that it starts to seem like a bad joke, or if he's not just telekinetic, but immortal. The Pop family are the only vaguely colorful characters, and they get tiresome quickly. And without giving away what it is exactly, the overarching set-up of the story is contradicted by everything that happens. Trust me, Push is best avoided.

Alex
The Magic of the Movies

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