February 18, 2009

Movie Review: Push (2009)


It was just about a year ago that Jumper was one of very few post-The X-Men films to put a spin on the idea of teleporters. It's a shame that the film failed to really deliver what it promised. Jumper introduced us to teleporters who were pursued by a covert agency, but it was all set up and no pay off, and not very enjoyable. When I saw a trailer for Push, I had flashbacks to that disappointing experience, but it's still a great concept, and there was no way this could be as bad as Jumper, right? It isn't. It turns out that Push is quite exhilarating and definitely enjoyable, though still not as good as it could have been.

pushpic2Push creates a world where people are born with all sorts of different abilities, much like The X-Men. All of these abilities seem to be the result of genetic experiments by the Nazis during World War II, with the goal of enhancing and weaponizing these abilities. When the war ended, the experiments continued, but were broken up into government run operations called Division. They would track and capture anyone found with an ability that that showed promise for further experiments.

Yes, a very lofty set-up, and one that works well. It seems to be a bit more fully realized than the back story in Jumper. Push really seems to have taken the idea of The X-Men in a different, grittier direction. It could be described as a cross between the mutant reality of that superhero franchise and the tense immediacy of a series like Bourne franchise. That sounds like high praise, but while those two franchises seem to have strongly informed this potential franchise, the execution is not quite there.

pushpic17As the story begins, we learn via voiceover about these special people, their various abilities, and the names attached to them. Many of them we don't get to meet, at least not this time around. This particular story centers on Nick (Chris Evans) and Cassie (Dakota Fanning). They are on their own in Hong Kong doing all they can to avoid Division, led by a man named Carver (Djimon Hounsou).

Further confusing the situation is the arrival of Kira (Camille Bell), a woman who can "push" thoughts into others minds. She is an escapee from Division custody and the only subject to survive the injection of a serum that is supposed to enhance innate abilities. There is also the small matter of a briefcase carrying a syringe of the serum. Oh yes, Cassie's mother is a captive of Division and she wants to get her back.

There is a lot going on, and not all of it is resolved, no doubt to help set up a sequel. However, with so much plot happening all around the characters, we never lose focus on them and their struggle to avoid Division and figure out just what kind of trouble is building up around them. It is a movie that builds up a fascinating universe with many possibilities for expansion. I think the potential richness of the universe makes the film seem more enjoyable than it may actually be.

pushpic12Still, a film that can inspire such thoughts cannot be half bad, right? The characters are interesting, and I enjoyed spending time with them as they attempted to navigate the dangerous waters that grew ever choppier around them.

The performances were solid all around. I found it interesting to watch Dakota Fanning, she is quite the acting talent and this is a role unlike anything she as done before. Sure, this is not the sort of movie that will tax acting chops, but it is a different role and one that could signal the transition to more adult roles. Chris Evans turns in a good job as well. Not to be left out is Djimon Hounsou as Carver; this guy delivers the goods. The man is a convincing actor in all the roles I have seen him in.

Push was directed by Paul McGuigan, who has proved himself on such projects as Lucky Number Slevin and Wicker Park. He has a good eye for what works on screen and it pays off in this action film. There is a gritty feel and very nice use of location. If anything lets down his direction and the film in general, it is the screenplay from David Bourla, which gets up a good head of steam, but fails to deliver the bang needed at its conclusion, content to sputter down as the story threads reach out for more.

Bottomline. This is a good movie. The action is well executed, and the film delivers, mostly, on its promise of a new world. It is not nearly as visionary as the advertising would want you to believe, but it has enough substance and verve to sustain it and probably a couple more films. Try it, you may be surprised.



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