Some critics thought that Paul McGuigan’s last film, Lucky Number Slevin (2006), was too much style over substance, and while they might have had a point, I found myself energized by the promise that that small, Tarantino-esque film showed of its director. With Push, a thriller/action(?) film about people with special abilities, McGuigan is really branching out into new territory that his filmography hasn’t really hinted at before. Does he make the transition successfully? Or should you give Push a wide berth?
In the world of Push, there are people with superpowers among us. “Movers” are telekinetics, with the ability to move and manipulate objects around them; “pushers” can “push” memories and motivations onto unwilling and unwitting subjects; “watchers” can see images of the future surrounding specific objects or people, and so on. A U.S. governmental organization called “Division” knows these people exist and is trying to capture them to harness their powers for its own ends. Division Agent Henry Carver (Djimon Hounsou) is on a quest to bring back Kira Hudson (Camilla Bell), a Pusher who has recently escaped. On Camilla’s quest to get away from Division and bring them down, she gets help from Mover Nick Gant (Chris Evans) and Watcher Cassie Holmes (Dakota Fanning), the latter of whom is trying to rescue her imprisoned mother.
I was actually looking forward to seeing a fresh take on the superpower/hero genre, but unfortunately, Push is a big mess. Its biggest problem is that it’s not sure what it wants to be. It doesn’t have enough gravitas to be a gripping thriller, enough action to be a fun thrillride, nor enough playfulness and romance to be a teen crowdpleaser. Instead it inhabits some nether-region between these three genres, never giving the audience anything to emotionally hold on to.
At the beginning of Push, a “Sniffer” orgasmically smells Gant’s toothbrush, then takes it with him, promising it will serve as a homing beacon should Gant ever try to run away. In a scene shortly afterwards, an Asian “Bleeder” starts screaming with an outrageously maniacal look on his face (fast forward to the end of this clip to see a bit of it):
For a moment after these scenes, I thought that Push was going to completely embrace its campiness and go for broke, perhaps giving us a ridiculous, big-budget action version of a Heroes episode. Sadly, the punishingly dour tone of the rest of the film belies its wacky premise.
As a film, Push never coheres as a whole. Potentially interesting plotlines, such as the development of Nick’s powers or the implications surrounding fate in a world where Watchers exist, are completely ignored in favor of ponderous and boring sequences with characters hopelessly trying to figure out what they should do next. The motivations of side characters such as Shifter Cliff Curtis and Sniffer Ming-Na are never explained and their presence fades in and out of the film as they are needed for the movie’s barely-comprehensible exposition.
In addition, the movie ruins one of the few things it had going for it: The characters’ special abilities (some of which are admittedly kind of cool and well-depicted). Push haphazardly sets up “rules” for its universe at the beginning of the film, then proceeds to break them left and right in the final 30 minutes. Certain questions are never answered: Do Pushers push memories and motivations onto people, or can they simply control minds? Do Watchers see potential futures or can they also see the present (because that’s actually a pretty big difference)? How much damage can a Bleeder inflict with his scream exactly? Why are some Watchers so much more accurate than others?
There is one redeeming quality about this film: McGuigan chose to shoot the movie in Hong Kong, and this is where Push really shines. Hong Kong’s architecture and atmosphere are rendered wonderfully and the city really comes alive in a way that’s rarely seen in a U.S. film. The way the Push uses its setting almost reminds me of how Danny Boyle brought Mumbai, India to life in Slumdog Millionaire, except in that instance, it was in the service of a much better film.
Push ends with a cliffhanger, refusing to deliver us a satisfying ending that it was ostensibly building up to for its entire 1 hour and 51 minute runtime. But if this film’s success means that a Push sequel will be on the way to continue Nick and Cassie’s adventures (complete with lackluster action scenes and nonsensical plot developments), then I’d urge you all to give Push a pass.
/Film Rating: 4 out of 10