Dir: Paul McGuigan. US. 2009. 111 mins.
Sci-fi action gets a wan workout in Push, an engagingly photographed but dramatically inert Hong Kong-set thriller in which various groups with paranormal abilities do battle over the future of a formula which heightens extra-cognitive powers. A muddled narrative and poor characterisations mean it could have trouble connecting with its target teen aaction market, and tepid word-of-mouth should consign Push’s best business to ancillary markets. Exotic locations seemed to help last February’s Jumper haul in over $220 million, nearly two-thirds from international receipts, so Push may also see a similar split in its revenues, if not quite the same level of grosses.
Nick Gant (Evans) is a second-generation telekinetic hiding in Hong Kong, trying to live off the grid and make a living through dice games. Fulfilling a prophecy made by his father before his death, 13-year-old Cassie Holmes (Fanning) shows up at Nick’s apartment, enlisting his help in locating an important suitcase. Fleeing some Chinese assassins, their on-the-fly investigatory work leads them to Kira Hudson (Belle), Nick’s ex-girlfriend and an on-the-run ‘pusher’ — someone with skills so advanced they can plant a thought indistinguishable from reality in a subject’s mind — who is the only telepath to have ever survived drug trial testing by ‘the Division,’ a shadowy government group who conducts human research.
Trying desperately to bring Kira in is a Chinese gang, as well as Henry Carver (Hounsou), a Division agent also responsible for the death of Nick’s father. Nick, Cassie and Kira hook up with some other, differently abled paranormal loafers and try to stay alive and ahead of these groups, while plotting to find the suitcase with drugs that will… save Kira’ Allow them to expose the Division’ The intricate final plan — in which Nick writes sealed letters to each of his cohorts, and then wipes his memory of the act — creates a circumstance by which anything can happen, untethered to any emotional reality.
The most compelling thing about Push is its setting. The film was shot entirely on location, which affords it a fresh look and feel, be it in a chase through a local fish market or the juxtaposition of modern skyscrapers and bamboo scaffolding.
Full of crammed frames, the production design embraces a much wider colour palette than typical genre fare. Accordingly, Peter Sova’s saturated cinematography lends the movie’s backdrop a sense of unvarnished authenticity, though at times the hand-held work seems specifically designed to mitigate the need for grander-scale effects shots.
David Bourla’s screenplay, though, is a jumbled mess of narrative cliches and poor execution, at once terribly conventional and needlessly complex. By trying to establish personal connections between characters rather than clearly establishing the rules of its tele-psychic play, Push actually raises far more questions than it ever convincingly answers.
Director Paul McGuigan (Lucky Number Slevin) keeps things moving at a brisk pace, but the action set pieces are only moderately rousing, not show-stoppers, and no amount of visual panache or background colour can bring this story to life.
Evans brings a certain physicality to his role, but isn’t given a distinctive enough character to truly shine. Moving into slightly more complex young adult roles, Fanning gets to play sassy, and even has a scene where she’s drunk. Somewhat charmingly, she doesn’t seem to have much personal experience to draw upon.
Infinity Features Entertainment
Domestic distribution/international sales
Director of photography