Push

A big idea with nowhere to go
Released: 
2009
Director: 
Paul McGuigan
Starring: 
Chris Evans, Dakota Fanning, Djimon Hounsou, Camilla Belle
The Setup: 
Some people have certain psychic abilities! And the requisite government group is after them.
Discussion: 

So this movie looked like a giant, cheap piece of total crap, and there was no way I was going to see it but—Imagine my shock, dismay and horror to find that it’s directed by Paul McGuigan, who, after Wicker Park and Lucky Number Sleven, had been named my favorite living director who is not Brian De Palma. I like the way he has a really smooth, in-your-face style, but uses it to tell his story, not just as empty jazz. And I still wasn’t going to see it. But then I read a few reviews that said it’s silly but fun and had a lot of directorial energy, and a friend of mine saw it and liked it, and suddenly it was officially on my list, so finally I saw it. And guess what? IT SUCKS!

We open with a little prologue in which this handsome young boy is taken into a room by his father, who tells him to remember one thing: when a young girl gives you a flower, help her! Because she’s going to help save the lives of all the people like them, who have special abilities. Then Djimon Hounsou as Carver shows up and kills the kid’s Dad! Then we have the credits, during which a thick, creamy drizzle of exposition is layered over the movie, creating a sumptuous narrative glaze. You see, the Nazis [Goddamn! Fucking Nazis AGAIN!] created this race of people with various abilities, with the intention of—well, what is the one and only thing any military group ever does in movies?—trying to create a SUPER WEAPON! Now the US Government is continuing the Nazi’s work! This group called The Division is trying to harness the power of the mutants and have their giant mega-weapon. We also find out that there are movers, people who can move things, pushers, who can put thoughts into others minds, and watchers, people who can see the future. And there’s a bunch of other ones, too. And the Division has tried to use this serum, only it makes the pusher die—until there’s one who lives! And she escapes with a syringe of the serum! And now they’re after her! Are you getting all this? This WILL be on the test.

So Dakota Fanning as Cassie, who is definitely in her gangly period [my friend was trying to start the rumor that she’s on heroin], comes to Chris Evans as Nick and tell him he has to help her find this girl who has this case because they’re going to get six million dollars. This leads almost immediately into this chase/fight in which these guys scream at them, which causes all these nearby fishtanks to explode. They’re going to wash them away with scummy water! No, turns out it also really hurts the ears, apparently. And they get separated! Then, when they’re reunited, Cassie gives Nick a flower, and he knows that he must save her! Isn’t it sad that no one in Nick’s entire life has handed him a flower until now? I think so. So they realize that they have to find this girl who has escaped with this case, because she holds they key that will bring down the Division! Oh, but Cassie is having visions that they all die. Ah well, best not to think about those.

So they have various adventures and we meet people with various abilities. Some can smell [or feel] things and get a history of the person they’re associated with. Some can erase memories. Some can mask the presence of others. In here, the woman in question, Kira, escapes from her two escorts, and takes off. She runs into Cassie and Nick on this pier, and—why, it seems that she and Nick used to be an item! At this point Cassie is all like “Well she doesn’t have the case and doesn’t know where it is, and being around her leads directly to our deaths, so let’s beat a hasty departure,” but no, Nick has to stay with her. It would seem that Kira hid the case and then had her memory wiped, because that will both help her avoid the watchers, and also provide the movie with a plot.

So now we continue to spin our wheels as Kira tries to recall where she put that darn case! In here Nick decides to march right up to Carver, because if not, NOTHING would happen in this movie right up until the end. This is the big scene you see in the trailer in which Nick gets stuck to the ceiling and a big psychic battle. The reason this is featured so prominently in the trailer is that it’s really the majority of the action in the movie.

SPOILERS > > >
So more blah, blah, blah happens, including some underage drinking, as they try to figure out what’s the matter with Kira [she’s sick] and how to get that case. The main action of the second half is in trying to find the case while eluding the mind scan of the Watcher assigned to them. But, arbitrary rule #78, the watcher can only sense INTENTIONS, so they have to simply not know what they’re doing. Nick writes a series of letters spelling out a plan, then gives them to each of the team, so they won’t know what they’re going to do, and thus can’t be scanned. Nick then has his memory wiped, so even HE doesn’t know. Why the watcher can’t read Nick during the two hours before he has his memory wiped is simply not explained. It all leads to a showdown at the top of skyscraper where they get the case—but have to fight off Carver, his super-pusher thug, and a separate group of gangsters after the case.

Here’s where things go from listless to complete mush. The skyscraper offers a bunch of potentially cool elements—bamboo scaffolding, glass floors—that might result in an awesomely cool showdown with people who can move shit with their minds. And what we end up with is… a FISTFIGHT?? These guys have all these powers and all the filmmakers can think to do is stage a fistfight? Then the good guys make off with the serum [that was inside the case], the thing we were told will bring down the whole division and restore hope and dignity to all the people with various abilities, and… and? ...And NOTHING. They just all go their separate ways, the division is pointedly NOT brought down, pretty much nothing is actually resolved, and the movie just ends. See you at Push II!
< < < SPOILERS END

I wanted to like it. I was rooting for McGuigan to bring a lot of fun energy and directorial snap to the proceedings, but I didn’t get much more than is generic to these types of films. And as you look back and piece it together, it becomes apparent that very little actually happens in this movie. The problem is that there are just too many various players with various abilities, and after a while they just cancel each other out. If everybody can do everything, that kind of cancels out any compelling story complications, because there’s always someone who can just magically overcome whatever is thrown at them. In this way the writer really paints himself into a corner, leaving himself no potential complications to exploit. The last half gets some energy from the heroes having to keep their intentions from themselves, but it isn’t handled cleverly enough to really become compelling, so it just seems like the build-up to something… that turns out never to arrive.

Which is the second big problem. This movie is kind of set up as episode one of twelve, with all the characters and world established and then, the end. No resolution whatsoever. When I saw the main heroes and villains just shrug and walk the other way from each other I said “Wait a minute, that’s IT?” And it sure is. After spending the entire movie building us up to the huge triumph that will spell the end of this evil government agency, we have… well, nothing.

Poor Paul McGuigan. I hope he didn’t take this because it’s the only thing he could get, but it kind of seems that way. As for you, do yourself a favor and save your time and money—unless it’s on cable or something. But even then... I never thought the day would come when I would say that you should watch Jumper before watching this—it also has people with abilities, and a black government operative out to get them—but it doesn’t forget to have these abilities lead to crazy, epic battles. If you have to see a crappy B movie about people with supernatural abilities, I would see that one.

Should you watch it: 

Nah, just skip it.