The film plays like a mix-tape sample of scenes from "Heroes," "Fringe," "Alias" and "The X-Files."
“Push” has no pull. A confused jumble of parts in search of a whole, the film plays like a mix-tape sample of scenes from “Heroes,” “Fringe,” “Alias” and “The X-Files” as it follows good guys gifted with paranormal powers trying to stave off bad guys with the same powers to create a U.S. super army. Director Paul McGuigan muscularly uses David Bourla’s impenetrable screenplay to turn Hong Kong into his own plaything, with enough energy to power solid worldwide opening week numbers and plenty left over for vid futures.
A prologue set 10 years ago delves into the fate of a “mover,” young Nick Gant (Chris Evans) — one of several types of people who were guinea pigs in government experiments to use paranormal skills (seeing the future, controlling thoughts or, in Nick’s case, moving objects) for military uses. After witnessing his father’s death at the hands of Henry Carver (Djimon Hounsou), a powerful “pusher” (thought controller) in the black-ops unit known as Division, Nick goes into hiding in Hong Kong.
As a sure sign that Bourla’s script needed some tidying, a messy voiceover during the credits by 13-year-old Cassie (Dakota Fanning) has been inserted to try to explain the background of the myriad players with psychic powers. (Hint to Summit Entertainment: Provide auds with a who’s-who program as they enter cinemas.)
After Kira (Camilla Belle), a promising pusher, escapes Division labs with a syringe containing a steroid meant to enhance psychic powers for the army Carver envisions, the action shifts to a teeming Hong Kong. McGuigan clearly wants to tap into the intense, outrageous tone and rhythms of his potent 2000 debut, “Gangster No. 1,” and aspires to turn Hong Kong into a living character of possibly more interest than any of the humans.
Cinematographer Peter Sova, evincing the overwhelming influence of Chris Doyle’s lush image-making, is a fine co-conspirator with McGuigan. Indeed, so successful are helmer and lenser at creating sensual, hyperactive and richly textured images that a viewer may wisely want to get lost in the pictures and not worry about tracking the story’s nonexistent logic.
In short order, Nick finds his supposedly untraceable H.K. abode invaded by, first, two Division agents (Corey Stoll, Scott Michael Campbell) and then by Cassie herself, a “watcher” who scribbles her future vision in a sketchbook.
In a role far stranger and more unhinged than her questionable character in “Hounddog,” Fanning arrives in a miniskirt, knee-high boots, funky multi-colored hair and tons of attitude, spouting “shit,” “damn” and “screw ’em” and, for good measure, getting wasted. As a bid for a grown-up part, the choice could hardly be more disastrous for a young, gifted actor who needs to carefully manage her career trajectory.
Cassie’s message to Nick — find Kira before Carver does, or they all die — sounds simple enough to be the basis for a videogame, which “Push” more closely resembles by the reel.
Nick must come up with a crafty counter-attack, and at first, his plan sounds inspired: Have his allies behave so erratically and illogically that a pusher like Carver can’t possibly trace or overpower them. But while this notion provides opportunities for comically bizarre action that would tickle the likes of Terry Gilliam, it isn’t carried through onscreen. Instead, subpar digital effects and willy-nilly fights (none, amazingly for the Hong Kong setting, including genuine martial arts) consume the third-act action in an unfinished downtown skyscraper.
Evans (“Fantastic Four,” “Cellular”) manages, as usual, to bring some likeable human qualities to utterly ridiculous material, but the other thesps convey little impact. The real star is the city, looking fabulously alive and pulsing with human traffic of all sorts.
Supporting McGuigan and Sova’s lavish visual design are production designer Francois Seguin and costume designers Nina Proctor and Laura Goldsmith. Editor Nicolas Trembasiewicz should step away from the java.