Film

'Push' Lacks Energy, Excitement


Push

Director: Paul McGuigan
Cast: Chris Evans, Dakota Fanning, Camilla Belle, Djimon Hounsou, Maggie Siff, Scott Michael Campbell
MPAA rating: PG-13
Studio: Summit Entertainment
First date: 2009
UK Release Date: 2009-02-20 (General release)
US Release Date: 2009-02-06 (General release)
Website
Trailer

They say the most important element in a science fiction story is a strong, understandable mythology. Formulate a believable, working, and logistically logical universe where characters and creatures abide by the rules and regulations set before them and you've conquered a great deal of the potential problems. As a result, slip ups can be cured with ease and risks rewarded, just as long as the foundation is set and secure. In the new future shock thriller Push, we are introduced to an entirely new (if slightly redundant) race of specialized individuals, people with powers beyond those of mere mortals. Meeting them towards the middle of their real world arc, we gets bits and pieces of how Nazi experiments in psychic warfare led to an X-Men like mutant population capable of great things - and the secret society Hell-bent on controlling them. Regrettably, the aforementioned reference to a certain comic franchise isn't the only bit of borrowing this film does. Indeed, the whole effort feels lifted from dozens of familiar - and in most cases, superior - offerings.

Nick Gant has been in hiding most of his life. As a young boy, he saw his father killed by a government agency called The Division. Seeking out individuals who are gifted psychically, the cabal hopes to capture and experiment on each and every one. Later, Nick hooks up with tween terror Cassie Holmes. She's a 'watcher', someone able to see into the future, and she needs his assistance in finding "pusher" (someone able to control the minds of others) Kira Hudson who holds the secret for tearing down the Division. Of course, there's a catch. By taking on this task, both Cassie and Nick will die. But if they fail to fulfill their mission, they run of the risk of destroying all others like them. With Division agent Henry Carver hot on their trail, and a complicated environment of fellow shifters, stitchers, bleeders, and wipers to navigate, it will take all the special skill that they possess to save everyone.

You've got to give Push credit for trying. It's almost impossible to create a complex alternative reality where everyday humans hold exceptional superpowers, where government cabals plot to capture and control these individuals, and a ragtag group of internal rebels try to overthrow…wait. Isn't this the primer for NBC's on again/off again phenom Heroes? Or the structure for any number of post-modern graphic novels? Apparently, when challenged for something original, writer David Bourla absconded with any number of sci-fi comics clichés and then tried to turn them into something novel and original. Yet no matter how you categorize them - sniffers, stitchers, pushers, movers - we are still stuck with individuals as gimmicks. Unless you give the holders of such skills real psychological depth, all we can do is sit back and wait for the overloaded F/X light show.

Sadly, Push doesn't even deliver said spectacle. Instead, this is a ploddingly paced, awkwardly ambitious film that seems lifted from the middle act of a better, more buoyant franchise. UK director Paul McGuigan wants to create something both personal and pyrotechnical, hoping that the many tiny moments between his actors will blossom and grow into a narrative of epic of otherworldly proportion. He even skimps on the action, leaving all the superpowers stuff until a midpoint confrontation between Grant and his Division enemies, and a last act throwdown on a Hong Kong high rise. Maybe he thought the sparing use of these often intriguing abilities would give them more impact. Perhaps the budget dictated their rare depiction. Whatever the case, this is a movie that needs more - more operatic dramatics, more life and death drive…heck, just more action in general.

Struggling to stay afloat inside McGuigan's brooding, often pointless pretensions are some damn fine performances. Dakota Fanning could be a live action anime heroine what with her whisper thin figure, Hello Kitty fashion sense, and fragile delivery. Even in moments of predetermined import, she's vulnerable and distressed. She's matched well by Chris Evans as Grant. Though given little to do except play icon, there are times when he lets down the forced façade to seem very human indeed. While Camille Belle is still lost somewhere in 10,00 B.C. and Djimon Hounsou does menace as if on autopilot, supporting players like Maggie Siff (as an evil healer) Ming-Na, and Cliff Curtis add wonderful atmospheric accents. In fact, had Push totally ignored the histrionics inherent in the genre and went with something more intricate and intimate, it might have worked.

Instead, we get wannabe chest-thumping and lots of lag time in between. Fanning's Cassie repeats herself endlessly, doddling in her sketch pad and harping on her impending death. There's also way too much exposition, sequences where we are given the narrative thread and overriding situational specifics over and over again. Speed is important in efforts like this. Had Wanted slowed down to explain itself fully, or Shoot 'Em Up stop to allow reconsideration, neither film would fly. Instead, they piled on the particulars and just kept going. Push needed this same kind of urgency. This material needs mania, something you envision being better handled with particular aplomb by someone like Ringo Lam, The Wachowski Brothers, or maybe even John Woo. It's not that McGuigan is out of his league. He's just not playing in the same ballpark.

Big ideas like the ones posited in Push necessitate a big vision to succeed - or at the very least, characters we can cheer for, care about, and get behind. Instead, what we experience is two hours of brooding among ambient Asian backdrops…and little else. The Hong Kong setting seems odd since the storyline does very little to accentuate the locale. Only a sequence with the Bleeders (individuals with voices that can literally kill) in a fish market makes sense. In addition, recent films with similar themes like Jumper and Babylon A.D. undermine any sense of originality or freshness here. Even with all its idiosyncratic elements, Push feels like something we've seen before. Unfortunately, said memory is of something far more fascinating and definitely more engaging.

4

So far J. J. Abrams and Rian Johnson resemble children at play, remaking the films they fell in love with. As an audience, however, we desire a fuller experience.

As recently as the lackluster episodes I-III of the Star Wars saga, the embossed gold logo followed by scrolling prologue text was cause for excitement. In the approach to the release of any of the then new prequel installments, the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare, followed by the Lucas Film logo, teased one's impulsive excitement at a glimpse into the next installment's narrative. Then sat in the movie theatre on the anticipated day of release, the sight and sound of the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare signalled the end of fevered anticipation. Whatever happened to those times? For some of us, is it a product of youth in which age now denies us the ability to lose ourselves within such adolescent pleasure? There's no answer to this question -- only the realisation that this sensation is missing and it has been since the summer of 2005. Star Wars is now a movie to tick off your to-watch list, no longer a spark in the dreary reality of the everyday. The magic has disappeared… Star Wars is spiritually dead.

Keep reading... Show less
6

This has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it.

It hardly needs to be said that the last 12 months haven't been everyone's favorite, but it does deserve to be noted that 2017 has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it. Other longtime dreamers either reappeared or kept up their recent hot streaks, and a number of relative newcomers established their place in what has become one of the more robust rock subgenre subcultures out there.

Keep reading... Show less
Theatre

​'The Ferryman': Ephemeral Ideas, Eternal Tragedies

The current cast of The Ferryman in London's West End. Photo by Johan Persson. (Courtesy of The Corner Shop)

Staggeringly multi-layered, dangerously fast-paced and rich in characterizations, dialogue and context, Jez Butterworth's new hit about a family during the time of Ireland's the Troubles leaves the audience breathless, sweaty and tearful, in a nightmarish, dry-heaving haze.

"Vanishing. It's a powerful word, that"

Northern Ireland, Rural Derry, 1981, nighttime. The local ringleader of the Irish Republican Army gun-toting comrades ambushes a priest and tells him that the body of one Seamus Carney has been recovered. It is said that the man had spent a full ten years rotting in a bog. The IRA gunslinger, Muldoon, orders the priest to arrange for the Carney family not to utter a word of what had happened to the wretched man.

Keep reading... Show less
10

Aaron Sorkin's real-life twister about Molly Bloom, an Olympic skier turned high-stakes poker wrangler, is scorchingly fun but never takes its heroine as seriously as the men.

Chances are, we will never see a heartwarming Aaron Sorkin movie about somebody with a learning disability or severe handicap they had to overcome. This is for the best. The most caffeinated major American screenwriter, Sorkin only seems to find his voice when inhabiting a frantically energetic persona whose thoughts outrun their ability to verbalize and emote them. The start of his latest movie, Molly's Game, is so resolutely Sorkin-esque that it's almost a self-parody. Only this time, like most of his better work, it's based on a true story.

Keep reading... Show less
7

There's something characteristically English about the Royal Society, whereby strangers gather under the aegis of some shared interest to read, study, and form friendships and in which they are implicitly agreed to exist insulated and apart from political differences.

There is an amusing detail in The Curious World of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn that is emblematic of the kind of intellectual passions that animated the educated elite of late 17th-century England. We learn that Henry Oldenburg, the first secretary of the Royal Society, had for many years carried on a bitter dispute with Robert Hooke, one of the great polymaths of the era whose name still appears to students of physics and biology. Was the root of their quarrel a personality clash, was it over money or property, over love, ego, values? Something simple and recognizable? The precise source of their conflict was none of the above exactly but is nevertheless revealing of a specific early modern English context: They were in dispute, Margaret Willes writes, "over the development of the balance-spring regulator watch mechanism."

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image