|Chris Evans (left) and Dakota Fanning star in ''Push.'' (Hirotake Okazaki)|
Humans with superpowers propel 'Push'
"Push" is that rare humans-with-superpowers movie where the powers are contagious. It made me feel psychic.
Suddenly I found myself able to predict what Dakota Fanning would say next, where Chris Evans would put his hands, what Camilla Belle's face might do. OK, that last one doesn't make me psychic since Belle doesn't express much. Her pretty, motionless face suggests a statue in a coma. And the camera's insistence on lingering upon it for what feels like minutes at a time is just one sign that this flaccid bid for franchisehood suffers from woeful judgment.
The film doesn't hail from a comic-book series or graphic novel but from a screenwriter (David Bourla) whose imagination seems full of such things. It's "Heroes: The Movie," minus the energy. Like that series, as well as "Jumper," last year's teleportation slog, "Push" tries to create its own universe of superhumans - mind-readers, telekinetics, supersonic screamers, and more - turned into warring factions. Not much of it makes sense. The rest isn't terribly interesting.
The opening minutes require Fanning to narrate a hectic explanation of how these superhumans came to be: Nazi experiments, psychological warfare, modern scientists who want them for killer weapons, and so on. Fanning fails to explain why most of the action unfolds in Hong Kong.
The cynical reasoning is that a big Asian locale would goose the movie's international box office. Mostly, though, Hong Kong is just an elaborate backdrop in which people run through restaurants, outdoor markets, pleasure palaces, and high-rise construction sites looking for a briefcase containing a single syringe. Once injected, its contents will create super-superhumans.
Fanning is what the film calls a Watcher. Evans is a Mover. Belle is a Pusher. An underused Cliff Curtis is a Shifter. There are also Stitches, Shadows, Wipers, and Bleeders, but alas, no Writers or Filmmakers to speak of. Director Paul McGuigan sends his camera flying in every possible direction, slowing occasionally to stare at Fanning's bare legs, scantly covered by combat boots and a micro-mini (her character's repeated instance that she looks 14 sounds distressingly defensive). Camerawork can't give rhythm to a narrative. Only a storyteller can. But the filmmakers don't seem to know what story they're telling. "Push" feels made up on the spot - and not in a spontaneous manner, but derivatively and self-consciously.
At the very least, a movie like this requires coherence to stay afloat. Barring that, it needs a star to distract us. The original "Superman" had Gene Hackman. "X-Men" had Ian McKellen and Hugh Jackman. "Iron Man" had Robert Downey Jr. Here Djimon Hounsou, as a stylish supervillain, wears a suit and sunglasses and lets the special effects department dilate his pupils. But he was more alive playing a Mr. Miyagi type in last year's martial-arts workout "Never Back Down."
Not even the usually charismatic Evans, who had fun as the Human Torch in two forgettable "Fantastic Four" movies, can stop himself from sleepwalking through "Push." He seems bored with his powers. I can't blame him. As a secondhand psychic, I was thoroughly bored with mine.
Wesley Morris can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.