Push is NBC’s Heroes, if anything ever happened on Heroes besides oh so mysterious prophecies and a litany of excuses to avoid action sequences. Director Paul McGuigan’s movie takes the idea of super powers and attempts to set them in the real world by ditching the spandex costumes and coming up with a standard, they’re hiding among us, secret society plot. Hiding doesn’t mean never doing anything exciting, and the film doesn’t shy away from letting its characters do cool stuff with their abilities. Because of that Push is a lot of fun, even if it’s not always well thought out.
It takes a few minutes for Push to get fun though. First we must sit through an awkward, Dakota Fanning narrated introduction and no less than two, back to back, intended to be intense character introductions. We watch a young boy and his father accosted by mysterious agents from something called “Division” and then jump years later to watch a girl escape from that same organization, after being injected with a drug against her will. These sequences fail because they exist mostly to serve the movie’s plot and, unfortunately the plot just isn’t that good. There’s a lot of talk about a case containing something, which we know to be a syringe full of super-juice, but which our heroes take forever to understand while we wait impatiently for them to catch up to us. Once they do catch up, we realize it didn’t matter anyway. This story isn’t really going anywhere.
Maybe I should actually tell you what’s going on, before I complain about it. Sorry, I just needed to get that off my chest. Push follows a group of people with super powers, hiding and running from a government backed organization called Division. It’s Division’s job to round up people with special abilities, or shoot them in the head when those people don’t suit their purposes. They actually aren’t very consistent in this, sometimes they simply leave super powered people alone. How they choose who to bother is unclear.
What is clear is that we’re rooting for Nick (Chris Evans) and Cassie (Dakota Fanning). Nick is a Mover and Cassie a Watcher. The world’s superheroes come in a dozen or so distinct flavors, with catchy, one word names attached to each. Movers have telekinetic abilities and can push things around with their mind. Watchers can foretell the future. Pushers can control your mind, Sniffers are good at tracking things, and so on. Movers are the most fun to watch but if you ask me it’s the Pushers who you don’t want to fuck around with.
Neither Nick nor Cassie is particularly good with the whole super power thing, and so they haven’t spent a lot of time developing their abilities. That’s a shame, since over the course of the movie they’re really going to need them. Luckily they’ll suddenly become experts when the plot requires it. That I can live with. What I can’t understand is why Nick hasn’t at least learned to use his abilities to get beer from the fridge, without leaving the sofa. This is not a normal man.
I mentioned the movie’s problematic plot. Cassie shows up on Nick’s doorstep and tells him she’s seen the future and he has to help her or she’ll die. Nick was once told by his father that if a girl ever gives him a flower, he has to help her. Guess who gives him one? So they set out together to avert a future in which they both end up dead. That’s not a bad story device and maybe if they’d simply left it at that we’d have all been happier. Unfortunately the script soon becomes bogged down in a game of find the magic item. Worse once that item is found it’s never entirely clear why it’s important and indeed, after an implausible resolution all of the film’s characters suddenly seem to forget that it is. Messy.
Luckily, though the script is at best mediocre everything else about Push is firing on all cylinders. Chris Evans is highly underrated as an actor, and the guy is flat out fun to watch. Dakota Fanning is trying to make the transition from child actor to teenager, and this is the right kind of role for her to do it in. She’s always had an air of weirdness about her, so it makes sense that she’d play a somewhat twitchy and out of sync teenage fortune teller. Their partnership really works and with Djimon Honsou as the movie’s villain, you can’t go wrong.
Best of all, there’s a lot to like about the way McGuinan directs it. For starters the story takes place entirely in Hong Kong, a welcome change from the standard Hollywood practice of setting every story either in New York or LA. It also allows McGuinan to fill his movie with the bright colors of a different culture and Push, whatever its flaws, looks damned good. It’s like someone dropped a superhero movie in the contrasting, crowded, color palette of Lost in Translation, and is having a lot of fun with it. This isn’t The Dark Knight or Spider-Man so McGuinan obviously didn’t have that kind of spendy effects budget, but he finds ways to do interesting things with what he has without shying away from the demands of doing something cool with his characters and their super powers. Why have them if you’re not going to use them right? McGuinan makes sure they get used.
So maybe a blah script leaves it to end with a whimper instead of a bang, there’s still plenty to like about Push. This is a movie which should benefit from the lowered expectations savvy moviegoers bring with them whenever they pay to see a movie in February. Push succeeds in spite of a pretty humdrum screenplay and is in fact, worth seeing if superheroes are your thing.
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