February 04, 2009

Push

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A movie review by James Berardinelli



Push

ACTION/ADVENTURE:

United States, 2009

U.S. Release Date:

2009-02-06

Running Length:

1:51

MPAA Classification:

PG-13 (Violence, Profanity)

Theatrical Aspect Ratio:

2:35:1

Cast:

Chris Evans, Dakota Fanning, Camilla Belle, Djimon Hounsou, Neil Jackson, Cliff Curtis, Ming-Na, Nate Mooney

Director:

Paul McGuigan

Screenplay:

David Bourla

Cinematography:

Peter Sova

Music:

Neil Davidge

U.S. Distributor:

Summit Entertainment

Subtitles:

none


With only one franchise superhero making a motion appearance in 2009 (Wolverine), Push might be among the best available options for fans of the burgeoning movie genre. An original concept that isn't directly based on any comic books or graphic novels, Push nevertheless feels like an adaptation and concept similarities between the movie and the TV series Heroes are hard to miss. Push is clearly designed to be the first chapter of a multi-part saga but, unlike last year's Jumper, it hedges its bets enough so that if there are no future installments, at least there's a degree of closure.

The film is blessed with a frenetic pace that simultaneously accomplishes two things: it keeps the energy level high while obfuscating some of the most obvious logical flaws in the plot's structure. These come to light when the movie is examined in retrospect but are not a major detriment to the average viewer's enjoyment as the story unfolds. Director Paul McGuigan and screenwriter David Bourla have crafted the film in such a way that the characters' arcs are not linear. I was never certain exactly what was going to happen next, and that factor allowed Push to hold my interest.

In the world of Push, there are a variety of humans with abnormal abilities sprinkled throughout the general population. These gifted individuals possess a variety of mind-skills related to telepathy, telekinesis, and clairvoyance, and are classified by names like "watchers" (who can predict the future), "movers" (who can shift physical items with their minds), "pushers" (who can influence the thoughts of others), "shifters" (who can change the appearance of things), and "stitchers" (who can heal). The government is aware of people with these capabilities and has set up a department to weaponize them. "The Company" is currently working on a drug to enhance mental powers but, to date, everyone injected with the serum has died - except Kira (Camilla Belle), a pusher who escaped after surviving the treatment and is now on the loose, pursued by Henry Carver (Djimon Hounsou), the pusher head of the project, and his cohort, Victor (Neil Jackson), a mover.

Kira's path intersects with that of her former lover, mover Nick Grant (Chris Evans), who has a history with Carver. Nick is working with 13-year old Cassie Holmes (Dakota Fanning), a watcher who is trying to free her mother from government custody. These three meet in Hong Kong, where they become involved in a frantic race against Carver's men and a crime gang to see who can capture a sample of the ability enhancer. For the latter two groups, power is at stake. But for Nick, Cassie, Kira, and a few others, the prize is autonomy and perhaps a bargaining chip that can be used to buy the release of Cassie's mother.

The narrative is dense and includes its share of interesting elements. Where pushers are involved, few things are clear-cut. Since they can influence the minds of others and implant false memories, there are instances when characters are forced to question their supposed "relationships" with other characters. This adds an element of ambiguity to the proceedings and makes it unclear whether the protagonists are who we think they are. Another layer is provided by the introduction of a "wiper," who can eliminate segments of memory. With all of the subplots and factions, the storyline - despite possessing a reasonably straightforward trajectory - can become confusing, and not all of the confusion is resolved by the time the end credits begin to roll.

For Chris Evans, this is not his first venture into the superhero genre, although Nick Grant is a more interesting and sympathetic character than Johnny Storm (a.k.a. The Human Torch). With Cassie, Dakota Fanning continues to transition from child roles to adult ones, and impresses with both her range and maturity; here, she toys with firearms and gets drunk. This may fundamentally be Nick's story, but Cassie is the sparkplug. Djimon Hounsou's approach to Carver - one of calm, almost diabolical ruthlessness - is much appreciated when one considers how many bad guys in this sort of production end up frothing at the mouth while delivering over-the-top, Samuel L. Jackson-type monologues. Hounsou's restraint makes his character seem all the more dangerous. The supporting cast includes Cliff Curtis, Ming-Na, and Nate Mooney as sympathetic people with mind powers who support Nick's efforts.

The strength of Push is its relentlessness. The movie doesn't pause for anything and, when it provides exposition, it does so without bringing the action to a grinding halt. The movie has an ambitious backstory and one senses that, if there is a Push 2, there will be no difficulty finding new avenues to explore. In fact, the movie is almost too short. Given another 15-20 minutes, there are subjects that could have been expanded and ideas that could have been better mined. At any rate, with Watchmen still weeks away, Push provides a solid reason for genre fans to spend some time in a movie theater.

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