23 February 2009

Push Review

If there is anything truly wrong with Push, it’s almost certainly down to the studio executives who bought it, bunch of money-grubbing bastards. Basically, it’s got Jumper syndrome: what’s here is a good start, but it feels like too much has been held back for a potential sequel. Fortunately, though, whilst the same potential as Jumper is here, this is thankfully a much more interesting, livelier affair.

The story goes that psychics are real and wandering around our world without us even noticing them. Various subsections of ‘psychic’ exist here, including telekinetic Movers, oracle-like Watchers, and people who can force their thoughts upon others called Pushers. Stitchers, Sniffers, Bleeders, Shadows and Wipers finish up the list, but to tell you about all of them would detract from the fun of discovering them in the film. There’s also, handily, a sector of the government whose sole purpose is to hunt down any psychic and attempt to harness them as a weapon – enigmatically named Division. But when one Pusher named Kira (Camilla Belle) survives a supposedly lethal injection of a ‘psychic steroid’ and subsequently escapes from Division, the complex ripples of her escape come to affect two other psychics – a Mover named Nick (Chris Evans) and a Watcher named Carrie (Dakota Fanning). Thing is, the ripples result in something rather unfortunate – their deaths. (Not spoilers, by the by, this much is given away by the freaking trailer!)

It is, perhaps, one of the better original mythos’ developed for a movie – borrowing from almost every aspect of comic-book mythology without ever seeming like cheap imitation. This is mostly down to minimalist, kinetic direction from Paul McGuigan that is rather thoroughly grounded in reality. The powers aren’t flashy or showy, but boy do they work.

This, in fact, gives way to some thoroughly entertaining action sequences. Of particular note is a showdown between two Movers that involves them telekinetically manipulating their pistols, attempting to push each other out of cover without exposing themselves. It’s tense stuff, and pleasingly played out. There’s also a very dark sense of humour transposed onto a lot of the action – from firearms being used as telekinetic clubs, to nonchalant shots of random bodies plummeting onto cars, if you don’t have a dark smirk on your face, then you probably don’t have a sense of humour.

The performances, too, whilst not all absolutely stellar – Camilla Belle probably couldn’t act her way out of a box, let alone convincingly – are still of a decent quality. Chris Evans, in particular, is showcasing himself as a particularly versatile actor, and a decent one at that, his Nick a bored, uncertain mess of a psychic who gets by with his luck and a ready wit. Dakota Fanning, too, is at least decent in her first truly ‘grown-up’ role. Djimon Honsou and Neil Jackson are suitably menacing as the primary antagonists.

Unfortunately, the film is let down by rather sloppy pacing,with a sagging middle section that feels like it’s padding out the runtime rather than anything else, and this is down to a relatively weak story. It’s almost certainly been truncated by some studio head honcho waxing lyrical about twelve sequels, but unfortunately it becomes a weaker film for it.

There’re also a couple of rather ropey special effects, and a couple that seem – in McGuigan’s quest for minimalism – that the special effects team simply forgot to put into the movie. This gives the film something of an unfinished feel, like there’s a director’s cut or a final cut in there somewhere that was just begging to be released.

At the end of the day, though, the real question is whether or not it’s entertaining – and that it is in spades. The flabby, all-over-the-place middle section aside, it’s full of action, dark humour and interesting ideas – and considering the shoestring budget, this is nothing if not an incredible achievement. If only the story were more fleshed out, this could’ve been one of the most surprisingly good films of the year. As it stands, it’s in dire need of a sequel, and if indeed it does precipitate, add one star onto the rating below.

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