February 12, 2009

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Push (PG-13)
Dakota Fanning stars in a kind of B-movie version of Heroes in Push, a not great but not awful bit of action/sci-fi fluff.

Actually, it’s Nick Grant (Chris Evans) who is the focus of this tale. He is a “mover” — someone who can move things with his mind (though not, sadly for him, the dice on which he bets all his cash). Gambling, with some minor and not-terribly-skilled cheating, is helping him afford his subsistence-level life in Hong Kong. He’s living there to keep off the radar of The Division, the secret government agency that tracks people like him with special abilities. Unfortunately for him, Division sniffs (people who can see what happened to somebody by sniffing an object they’ve touched) have shown up looking for someone. He’s about to run when he gets yet another visitor, Cassie (Fanning), a sassy tween who is a “watcher” and can see the future. She knows that Kira (Camilla Belle), an Evans-aged “pusher” (someone who can make people do what she wants or believe different things about their past by getting into their heads), will show up soon and need their help. She is the only ability-having-person so far who has survived government testing. The Division needs her to create a race of super soldiers.

Abilities, secret government agencies, scrappy resisters — see? Heroes. Push reminded me of Taken, a movie that came out about two weeks ago that is basically the TV show 24 without the increasingly nonsensical international-terrorists plots. (This season, the military dictator-wannabe of some tiny African nation is paying buckets of money to jerk the U.S. government around via a firewall-hacking device that can crash airplanes and create disasters at chemical plants while the female president’s staff whines about how it would be best to appease this tin-pot strong-man. And meanwhile, the president’s husband is going rouge to investigate the death of his son at the hands of the same organization helping the African dictator. Ah, for the days of a straightforward bad-guy-with-nuclear-device.) Similarly, here we get a tidy cast (rather than Heroes’ Cecil B. DeMille-like sprawling collection of heroes, villains and civilians with evil intent) and a single task (it isn’t quite “save the cheerleader, save the world” but it’s close). I’m not sure if this pilfering of TV plots and then paring them down into easily digestible movies is intentional, but strangely it is moderately more successful than trying to out-do TV (not a single cop movie since The Departed has lived up to, even, one of your better Law & Order episodes).

Approach Push as just this — a one-off Heroes episode — and it’s kinda fun. Cool powers, nifty if occasionally confusing special effects, last-minute escapes, X-Men power vs. X-Men power showdowns: I’m not saying these things are worth a special trip to the theater and $10 of hard-earned cash. But if you’re there already and somebody else is buying (or if you’re looking for something to add the Netflix queue for, my guess, late May) Push isn’t bad.

It isn’t good, however, either and therein lies the problem of these TV-resembling movies. Heroes, for all its faults, actually does do a better job with its storytelling than Push. The characters are better developed, we care about them more. At one point in Push, it’s rather heavily hinted that a certain supporting character is going to die. I have to say I was rather disappointed when that charcter didn’t, not because I didn’t like the character but because it would have added a sense of real danger to the story. On Heroes, people die, people lose their powers, people grow and change and become evil and good and go back to evil. There isn’t nearly enough time to have a similar amount of fun with the characters in Push. Likewise, once the shock value of seeing a rather tarted up Dakota Fanning wears off, there’s nothing much interesting about her character, and Chris Evans could have been replaced with any of a dozen 20something guys with scruffy facial hair. The only interesting character is the Division baddie played by Djimon Hounsou, but he doesn’t get nearly enough screen time. C

Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, brief strong language, smoking and a scene of teen drinking. Directed by Paul McGuigan and written by David Bourla, Push is two hours and one minute long and is distributed by Summit Entertainment.