In the first minute of Push, a character utters a line that's all but verbatim: "Save the cheerleader; save the world." With the film's unapologetic intent to lift freely from Heroes and its progenitor X-Men firmly established, we're then treated to virtually nothing new in the ordinary-folks-with-extraordinary-abilities subgenre.
Opening credit narration explains that there exist people born with special powers they don't necessarily want, and since the '40s an entity called Division has been trying to round them up and turn them into super-soldiers. There are a handful of abilities, and if you have one, you get a catchy name. Watchers can see the future. Pushers can put thoughts in your head. Sniffers can find out what you've been up to by smelling your stuff (really). And so on. Article continues below
The rules of the universe now set, we follow Nick (Chris Evans
), a Mover (telekinetic) hiding out in Hong Kong trying to eke out a living by cheating (unsuccessfully) at dice. He's contacted by two Division cronies who are looking for a woman. His next visitor is a little girl named Cassie (Dakota Fanning
), who it turns out is a Watcher looking for that same woman. Nick and Cassie band together to track her down.
The woman in question is Kira (Camilla Belle
), a recent Division escapee who is the first survivor of a superdrug designed to boost the abilities of the super-abled. Division sends a Pusher named Carver (Djimon Hounsou
) to retrieve her and the syringe full of the super-steroid she stole. Oh, and some shadowy Chinese bad guys are after her, too. Oh, and Carver killed Nick's Dad. And Division still has Cassie's mother (who is, like, the Best. Watcher. Ever.) locked away somewhere on the verge of death. It all sounds a lot more involved and interesting than it actually is.
There are some good ideas here. Hook (Cliff Curtis) is a Shifter, who can make one thing appear to be another for a time, turning a worthless piece of paper into a HK$500 bill with a flick of the wrist. This is a very cool power, and it's put to some good use in the film. And Nick's plan to outmaneuver the Chinese syndicate's Watcher (Lu Lu) is very clever. But these ideas are the exception. The rule is clichéd and implausibly insipid behavior.
For example, do you really bother putting handcuffs on a guy you know uses his mind to move things? And if you know you have the ability to make people kill themselves, why do you wait until they start shooting at you to play that card? And if you know somebody has that ability, why do you send people with guns after them in the first place? I could go on for hours but you'd probably "push" me off a cliff.
Director Paul McGuigan
does his darnedest to add some style to the proceedings, changing suddenly to extra-gritty film stock every now and then, and Fanning does her best to play world-weary. (At one point, Cassie needs to get sauced to enhance her powers, but Fanning doesn't quite pull off belligerent drunk.)
It's not that it's pointless to create yet another superhero franchise. In fact, it's almost refreshing to see an attempt at an original superhero screenplay not based on a pre-existing comic book (the Push comic was created concurrent with the film's production). Push falters not in trying to add its voice to the genre, it falters in not having anything compelling to say.