February 09, 2009

Push

Dakota Fanning sees the future in 'Push'Push is an intriguing but unexceptional scifi thriller in dire need of a final act. Functionally, the movie plays like Minority Report crossbred with "Heroes" in the back alleys of Hong Kong. What sets it apart is a unique visual palette and editing choices that favor small character beats over blistering action sequences.

As thirteen-year-old clairvoyant Cassie Holmes explains over the opening credits, ordinary people with extraordinary abilities walk among us. Beginning with the Nazis during World War II, governments around the world have tried to weaponize these individuals. Until Kira Hudson, all of these efforts had been lethal. But Kira survived, and escaped to Hong Kong—where Cassie and telekinetic deadbeat Nick Gant are destined to find her.

Dakota Fanning and Chris Evans anchor the film. When Nick is introduced as a failed gambler and general loser, Evans plays him as a man living far below his potential. Because he doesn't let Nick seem naive, it makes his rather sudden transition to ringleader of a complex and intricately plotted conspiracy more credible. Fanning imbues Cassie with depth; she manages to balance moments of true youthful innocence with a factitious snarky exuberance that masks the heavy burden of knowing too much.

The rest of the characters exist to serve a function. As Kira, Camilla Belle is impenetrable. A human MacGuffin, Kira exists so that Nick and Cassie have something to chase after. Djimon Hounsou, Joel Gretsch, Cliff Curtis, Ming-Na, and a large cast of most Chinese cohorts serve as pieces in an ever changing puzzle.

That puzzle demands the audience's full attention, and will leave many scratching their heads. I enjoyed keeping track of it all, and appreciated the obvious work that must have gone into bringing things together cleanly. Unfortunately, there's more puzzle than the movie's 111 minutes can hold. The ending is beyond frustrating, cutting to credits just when the characters are poised to dive into the larger mythology. Good movies know better than to dangle characters in front of the audience they'll never get to meet. Imagine if The Third Man had ended right before the Ferris wheel scene, and you'll understand Push's biggest failing.

There is much to be admired about Push, including a great cast, fantastic location shooting, and a smarter-than-average plot. Unfortunately, the good parts don't overcome cardboard cut-out supporting characters and an ending that doesn't resolve anything. All things considered, it would have made a better television pilot than a movie.(**½)


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