Those of us old enough to have bought tickets for the theatrical release of David Lynch’s “Dune” will remember being handed glossaries that were intended to explain the characters, the plot structure and the terminology. And that was when we knew we were in for a long and confusing night at the movies.
“Push” doesn’t come with an audience handout, but it does spend its first five minutes winding its way from Nazi super-army experiments to psychological warfare to explaining the various types of super-beings among us, from Watchers (who can see the future) to Movers (they manipulate objects telekinetically) to Pushers (who can control your mind and your memories) among many others.
But after all this frantic exposition, we’re basically left with a movie that involves a lot of chasing and fighting. We also have heroes and villains who are matched not only by their funky powers but also by their utter dullness. I thought Hayden Christensen in last year’s “Jumper” would be as bland a mutant as the screen would ever give us, but that was before I saw Chris Evans in “Push.”
Evans stars as Nick, a Mover who’s been hiding out in Hong Kong since the death of his similarly powered father several years earlier. He’s hunted down by some Sniffs (you can guess their ability) in the employ of the nefarious Carver (Djimon Hounsou), a Pusher in the employ of a shadowy government department known as The Division. Soon thereafter, Nick is found by Cassie (Dakota Fanning), a Watcher who needs his help recovering a suitcase.
After some chasing and fighting, Nick and Cassie track down Kira (Camilla Belle), a Pusher ex of Nick’s who’s the sole survivor of a Division drug trial, and then everyone’s after the suitcase for reasons that seem to get murkier as the film continues. (The appearance of decoy suitcases made me suddenly wish I was watching “What’s Up, Doc?” instead.) Oh, and did I mention that Carver killed Nick’s father?
Director Paul McGuigan (“Lucky Number Slevin,” “Wicker Park”) should have his face in the dictionary next to the entry for “Style Over Substance,” because even when “Push” makes no sense whatsoever — which is frequently — he and cinematographer Peter Sova make the most of their Hong Kong locations, having characters run through crowded streets and marketplaces, bringing a sense of dizzying urgency to the proceedings.
But there’s no overcoming the dopey script by David Bourla — it’s not based on a comic book, but “Push” has since become one. The world he’s trying to create here is muddled and messy, populated with paper-thin characters. Even the talented Dakota Fanning — who, if she keeps picking movies like this one, is officially entering her Awkward Transition Phase — can’t do much with Cassie, although she does at least get a charming drunk scene.
Booze, you see, apparently helps Watchers hone their visions. It probably also makes movies like “Push” easier to endure.