Flashy visuals and a semi-unique premise do not a great action movie make. No matter how cool your idea may be or how much money you sink into the visuals, you still need to invest in characters and story. That is the lesson to be learned from Paul McGuigan’s sci-fi thriller Push. Having said that, I would also like to go on record and say that I found his film to also be a lot of fun at times, mixing some really slick visuals with a unique grit and some solid performances from a few actors previously thought to have little to no acting ability.
And I wasn’t kidding about the ‘semi-unique’ nature of the film’s premise. While we have seen it before, it did root itself quite well in some not-too-distant scientific principals, such as telekinesis or precognition. And unlike television shows such as Heroes, it at least attempts to be plausible. It also attempts to, and succeeds with delivering some intense action. Another thing it does not share with Heroes. It follows the story of Cassie Holmes (Dakota Fanning), a second generation “watcher” (can see into the future) whose visions of a grim future have led her to Hong Kong where she finds Nick Gant (Chris Evans), a runaway second generation “mover” (can move objects with his mind) who is just trying to lay low. Together they set off to find and protect Kira (Camilla Belle), a “pusher” (ability to put thoughts into other peoples’ heads) who has miraculously escaped from the clutches of a dastardly government organization known as Division, who as gained a reputation for capturing, experimenting on and subsequently killing many of these people with special powers.
Along the way they get help from various other “special people,” all with unique and interesting powers. For example, Sunshine star Cliff Curtis shows up as a former Division agent who is a “shifter,” or someone with the ability to make one thing look like something else completely. This leads to more than one gag in which he pays for a Martini with a piece of paper that he has “shifted” to look like money. There is also an interesting little for Sons of Anarchy star Maggie Siff — a personal favorite lady of mine — as a woman with ability to touch an injured person and rearrange their insides in order to heal them. Needless to say, that leads to at least one cool scene. And finally there are Division agents known as “sniffers” — they can smell things and tell you where they’ve been. They are useful little helpers for Carver (Djimon Hounsou), the leader of Division and master “pusher.”
If you are getting a little confused about all of these characters, don’t worry. That’s normal — and it gets worse. In fact, the characters that I’ve already described are only scratching the surface. There are a number of ancillary characters, including a few crazy-eyed Asian gentlemen whose screams cause fish to explode. That is where the film crosses the plausibility line and begins to dance in stupidity for a while. But it is short-lived and for the most part, the action makes up for the film’s weaker plot moments. One scene in particular, a big battle in the film’s third act, is certainly worth wading through some confusing story elements as it delivers an intense, though not intensely CG-enhanced spectacle. Also helping along the way are some solid performances from Push’s young cast, including one very fun (but silly) scene of drunkenness from the scantily clad Dakota Fanning, whose outfit is criminally too risque for a 14-year old. And despite the fact that Fanning delivers a more mature performance than say, her work in Uptown Girls, I would have liked to have seen less of her legs and more of those attached to Camilla Belle’s stoic persona. Rounding out the performances are the men of Push, namely Djimon Hounsou and Chris Evans, both of whom hold up their own. Evans is funny when he needs to be and Hounsou is scary, well, all the time. And it works, as long as you aren’t trying to invest yourself too much in their relatively one-dimensional characters.
Of course as I mentioned, intense action can’t save Push from its own flighty nature, especially toward the end. On more than one occasion during its third act, the film reaches a “Where to now?” moment. And instead of working toward a plausible, clever and relatively compelling ending, it continues to meander on into darker territory. I would even contend that the film doesn’t end at all, it just neatly sets itself up to roll right into a sequel. And I don’t have a problem with setting yourself up for a sequel. What I do not like it a movie that leaves us with tons of loose ends.
But loose ends aside, Push is still a decent choice if you are looking for a little action and a little fun in the pit of despair that is the post-Christmas movie season. It doesn’t shy away from a little high-flying action and some decidedly funny moments. Just try not to think too hard about it.