– Summary –
Director : Paul McGuigan
Year Of Release : 2009
Principal Cast : Chris Evans, Dakota Fanning, Camilla Belle, Djimon Honsou, Ming Na, Cliff Curtis, Li Xiaolu, Neil Jackson, Kwan Fung, Jacky Heung, Maggie Siff.
Approx Running Time : 111 Minutes
Synopsis: In Hong Kong, a highly sough after serum to increase the abilities of a group of super-powered humans is being hunted by a group only known as Division. To find the serum, and rescue her mother, a young girl with the ability to see into the future teams up with a man with telekinetic abilities and takes on the agents of Division.
What we think : Strangely uneven action flick, with plenty of potential flushed down the Hong Kong toilet. I was screaming at the screen wanting something cool to happen, wanting anything to happen, and in the end I was thoroughly disappointed with how limp the film actually ended up being. It’s one of those films where the actors do a lot of talking about being able to do cool stuff, and then spending the rest of the film not doing that cool stuff until they absolutely need to – by which stage the audience has turned off.
For those unfamiliar with Paul McGuigan’s work, can I suggest grabbing a copy of his debut feature, The Acid House, and getting your freak on. Then, come back for this effort, which is a far cry from his anarchic earlier work. Comparing the two films, one of which looks like it was shot with a budget approximating a weekly grocery bill, and the other with a heftier dose of cash behind it, is like comparing Plan 9 From Outer Space with District 9 without cracking a smile. Not possible. Push, which isn’t some sort of terrifying journey through one man’s adventures in a maternity ward, is a science fiction-ey action work from the Irish director, set in Hong Kong, and starring a number of quality US actors. Dakota Fanning and Chris Evans lead the way in what is a fairly benign action thriller, a thriller with is neither thrilling or very action packed. It’s a disappointment.
According to the opening narration, the Nazi’s were experimenting with humans during the Second World War, trying to enhance those born with superhuman abilities – abilities such as telekinesis, seeing the future, psychometric abilities and those with the ability to manipulate shapes and colors, such as turning a blank piece of paper into a hundred dollar bill. After the war, however, various Governments around the world kept these experiments going, creating agencies for themselves known as Division, an agency which kidnaps potential super-humans and experiments on them. In Hong Kong, a “Mover” known as Nick (Chris Evans) has the ability to move things with his mind, and meets a young “Watcher” known as Cassie (Dakota Fanning) who can see into the future. Cassie has a plan to get back at Division, after they re-capture an escaped girl from one of their laboratories, a girl known to Nick and somebody who can help them bring down the agency. Cassie’s mother is held prisoner at Division headquarters, and their lead agent, Carver (Djimon Honsou) has the ability to “push”, or implant a thought into your mind that you perceive as real – at one point, he tells a fellow agent to put a gun into his mouth and pull the trigger. Carver has his own agenda in obtaining the powerful serum hidden away in a case somewhere in Hong Kong: the serum supposedly increases the abilities of the super-humans it is given to, although to this point nobody has yet survived an injection. Together with Cassie, Nick and some other superhuman acquaintances band together to bring down Division and rescue Cassie’s mother.
Push is one of those films with heaps of cool ideas, and never delivers on them to the fullest potential. It’s a waste of a film, if you ask me. That’s not to say the film is bad, because it’s not the worst thing I’ve ever seen, but I was horribly disappointed. My wife, the gorgeous Lisa T, was watching this with me and asked as the credits rolled: “is that it?”, and I could only nod my head. Yes, it’s a film that ends too soon, like they ran out of money and simply went “let’s just fade to black and leave the rest of the story unresolved”. The film just… ends, leaving the viewer wondering if the reason for the film in the first place – the rescue of Cassie’s mother – was even successful, because for all the narrative spent discussing how to go about it, in the end it never happens. There’s no resolution save our heroes just wandering off into the Hong Kong night, no mention of Division’s success or failure at obtaining the serum. It feels less like a film, and more like a very expensive pilot for a TV show (which, as I write this, Wikipedia tells me has been give the green light…) so I feel cheated that the ending isn’t up to snuff.
The conceit behind the film is actually pretty cool, and open to a bunch of sequels and even – yes, I’ll bite – the TV series mooted by the producers. The roster of characters and their various abilities reads more like a grungy episode of Heroes than a simple drama about misunderstood US citizens living in Hong Kong. The film displays the powers of each of the cast really well, although by far the coolest power to have would be as a Mover, the ability to move objects with your mind, as well as withstand bullet hits and enjoy a “super punch”. Yeah, that’d be cool. Or, like Carver and Nick’s former flame Kira (Camilla Belle), the ability to implant a thought into your mind, making you do almost anything. Yeah, the powers these people have are pretty sweet – it’s a pity the filmmakers tried to make this film with them not using any powers. Half the film involves a lot of talking, running and planning, when all you want to see are super-humans smacking the bejeezus out of each other. That only happens a few times, although when it finally does, it’s well filmed and actually quite exciting. There’s just large gaps between those times.
McGuigan seems intent on making this film a drama, rather than a thriller, which tends to be annoying because the characters aren’t really that interesting – Chris is the product of a Division-caused broken family, while Cassie is as well, although we never get to see her mother and thus, we never feel a true, genuine connection with her. Dakota Fanning delivers a performance with plenty of weight, and by God she’s going to win an Oscar one day, but she’s let down by a thinly developed script and, honestly, some turgid dialogue. Screenwriter David Bourla spends a great deal of time with his characters giving impactful lines of monumental life-and-death import and then failing to deliver the same when it comes to the action and plot-twists; the film feels tedious, even though I can’t say it should have been with the action sequences in it. Yet, the ponderous, angst-ridden screenplay brutally undercuts the potential for some really cool, super-exciting action stuff, and it annoyed me. I spent a lot of this film feeling annoyed that things weren’t happening the way they should. Or could. Perhaps “could” is a better choice of words. Nick, who has his ass handed to himself by the villains of the film on more than one occasion, should have spent a bit of time training up on his powers before jumping into the fray, but he doesn’t – which makes his final showdown all that much more incredible when he seems to pick up on skills he never knew he had and use them like he’s used them all his life. Golden Horse-winning actress Li Ciaolu (the Golden Horse Awards are Taiwan’s equivalent of the Oscars) plays a creepy Watcher whose portents of doom for Cassie unnerve the younger girl, while Djimon Honsou hams it up as the films central antagonist, and a powerful Pusher as well.
Oh how awesome this film could have been. The final showdown, in which several of our characters get together and take each other on in a half-constructed Chinese skyscraper, is actually really cool to watch, and had the rest of the film been that awesome Push might have received a higher rating from me. As it is, it’s a “nearly there” effort, the kind of film you watch and think about other, better films you could have been watching instead. I can’t fault McGuigan’s direction really, because he does deliver the appropriate amount of style and action chutzpah. Where I lay the blame for the failure of this film is its scripting, moreso than the direction. The script can’t figure out if it’s a serious dramatic piece, an all-out action flick, or something in between. The lengthy dialogue sequences lack true impact, the action sequences are over too quickly, and the resolution of the film leaves viewers asking more questions than they started with. There’s style to burn here, and concepts of cool unlike any I’ve seen before, but they’re let down by a story that – yawn – goes nowhere fast. Character aren’t well written, nor are some of the motivations behind their actions, and in the end it’s a whole lot of nonsense over nothing. Unless you’ve got a roast in the oven and you need to kill an hour or so, I’d skip this for something else.