Sci-fi action gets a wan workout in Push, an engagingly photographed but dramatically inert Hong Kong-set thriller in which various groups with paranormal abilities do battle over the future of a formula that heightens extra-cognitive powers. Lacking the kinetic, push-through certitude to unclog its muddled narrative, the film is hampered by a poorly delineated backdrop of intrigue which posits that the immediate future can be constantly changed by the tiniest actions, or even knowing about it. This creates a landscape in which no character action seems to have lasting consequence, either within the story, or emotionally for the audience.
Nick Gant (Chris Evans) is a second-generation telekinetic hiding in Hong Kong, trying to live off the grid and make a living through dice games. Fulfilling a prophecy made by his father before his death, 13-year-old Cassie Holmes (Dakota Fanning) shows up at Nick’s apartment, enlisting his help in locating an important suitcase. Fleeing some Chinese assassins, their on-the-fly investigatory work leads them to Kira Hudson (Camilla Belle), Nick’s ex-girlfriend and an on-the-run “pusher” — someone with skills so advanced they can plant a thought indistinguishable from reality in a subject’s mind — who is the only telepath to have ever survived drug trial testing by “the Division,” a shadowy government group who conducts human research.
Trying desperately to bring Kira in is a Chinese family gang, as well as Henry Carver (Djimon Hounsou), a Division agent also responsible for the death of Nick’s father. Nick, Cassie and Kira hook up with some other, differently abled paranormal loafers and try to stay alive and ahead of these groups, while plotting to find the suitcase with drugs that will… save Kira? Allow them to expose the Division? The intricate final plan — in which Nick writes sealed letters to each of his cohorts, and then wipes his memory of the act — creates a circumstance by which anything can happen, untethered to any emotional reality.
The most compelling thing about Push is its setting. Director Paul McGuigan (Lucky Number Slevin) shot the film entirely on location, which affords it a fresh look and feel. David Bourla’s screenplay, though, is a jumbled mess of narrative clichés and poor execution, at once terribly conventional and needlessly complex, like it’s setting the table for a sprawling TV series. By trying to establish personal connections between characters rather than clearly establishing the rules of its tele-psychic play, Push actually raises far more questions than it ever convincingly answers. If Nick is out of practice and not very good with his telekinetic gifts in the beginning of the movie, what triggers his sudden ability to control weapons and stop bullets? If the drug-enhanced Kira is the powerful prototype for a new breed of telekinetic soldiers, why is she still susceptible to Carver’s “pushes”? If the Division is a secret American governmental organization, why would they work at all with potential rivals in the Chinese, rather than merely dispatch their own minions? If “watchers” like Cassie predict the future based on intent, why can’t one see the aforementioned plan to mask intent through sealed letters as it’s being hatched? These questions, and many more, occupy one’s mind more than actual events unfolding on screen. For the full original review, from Screen International, click here. (Summit Entertainment, PG-13, 111 minutes)