The new sci-fi action thriller Push introduces a whole new army of "gifted" human beings. Watchers can see the future, but they're not always accurateand sometimes just talking about it changes it. Movers can telekinetically move objects. Sniffs can smell an object and visualize its handler's history. Shadows can follow a person around and keep sniffs from finding them. Shifters can make objects momentarily look like other objects. Bleeders scream and the noise ruptures blood vessels. Wipers erase memories. Stitchers repair or inflict bodily harm by touch. And pushers can, basically, control people's minds. And this banal laundry is enumerated here because Push never once tries to explain anything so clearlyincluding what the hell is going on and why anybody should care.
What is explained is so confusing that you're never quite sure who is after whom for what. What is certain, as certain as anything can be when it's rushed through in voice-over during the opening credits, is that the Nazis, of course, started experimenting with clairvoyant humans during WWII, and ever since governments have conducted their own experiments, using shadowy departmentssuch as the United States' generic Divisionoutfitted with such gifted people to track, hunt, and capture other people with powers. Apparently, there's a race to develop a drug to weaponize clairvoyants, but, so far, everybody the Division doctors have administered its drug to has died. Except Kira (Camilla Belle), a pusherwhich is eventually disclosedwho escapes their clutches and flees, somehow, to Hong Kong, where, unbeknownst to her, her former flame Nick (Chris Evans), a pusher, and his newfound companion, Cassie (Dakota Fannig), a watcher, are searching for her, because right before he died, Nick's father told Nick that he had to help a little girl who gave him a flower.
Got that? Don't worry, Push doles all this out like a sleight-of-hand artist handling a loaded deck, distracting the eye with one move while pretending to keep things moving with another. And after many stilted battles, showdowns, chases, and circuitous plots that may be truth but might be a hoax, Push teams Nick, Cassie, and Kira with shifter Hook (Cliff Curtis), sniff Emily (Ming-Na), and shadow Pinky (Nate Mooney) to retrieve a drug to save Kira's life before Division pusher Carver (Djimon Hounsou) and mover Victor (Neil Jackson) or the Chinese government team that includes a watcher (Xia Lu Li), a punkabilly bleeder (Kai Cheung Leung), and their father (Hal Yamanouch) can. The eventual plan to do just that plays out like a long con.
Such orchestrated schemes make sense coming from director Paul McGuigan, the artful manipulator of such cinematic three-card Monte games as Gangster No. 1 and Lucky Number Slevin. And while Push's execution feels as deft, the set-up takes forever and never really identifies its score. Blame David Bourla's script, which mistakes multiple story lines and nonlinear development for complexity, abrupt tone shifts for tension, and leaving plot points unresolved for mystery. Push wastes most of its 101 minutes in convoluted exposition, and only starts to gain momentum after you've lost interest in its characters.
Which is too bad, because even with the threadbare writing some of these characters are entertainingly ludicrous, especially Fanning's Cassie. Street-punked up in knee-high platform boots, trashy rags, and frizzed-out hair streaked with dye, Fanning makes Cassie a headstrong naïf, a young watcher aware of her strong powers but not in complete control of them, making such giftsjust as the X-Men comics doa metaphor for puberty/adolescence itself. Cassie is a character on the verge of becoming herself, and Fanning gives her a precocious vulnerability and juvenile confidence: A scene in which Cassie, trying to follow her watcher mother's advice, gets drunk to see the future more clearly, finds Fanning winningly straddling cliché drunkard and childish churlishness.
And Cassie's patchwork gutter-life panache is an example of what Push does extremely well. Its Hong Kong is a gritty wonderland of glistening red and gold lights, run-down apartments whose walls are lined with colorful tiles, street markets walled with aquariums, colorfully seedy night clubs, and hip underworld denizens who look like they wandered in from some other moviesuch as any of Kar Wai Wong's versions of urban Chinese life.
Yes, that's right: the most disappointing thing about Push is that it's trying to be a movie with Wong's visual decadence and where things blow up. Credit McGuigan for this visual lifean avowed Wong fan, McGuigan's output is littered with dynamic visual compositions and an eye for seductive decors, and in Push he gets a chance to do his best Wong tribute ever. Freelance Hong Kong stitch Teresa (Sons of Anarchy's Maggie Siff) looks she just stepped out of In the Mood for Love. Night scenes move inside the liquid neon blue of Fallen Angels, a daytime showdown inside a semi-outdoor market is captured in the scarlet reds and sunrise oranges of Days of Being Wild. And in almost every interior shot, busily design background wallpaper and overstuffed set dressing suggests the off-kilter, mixed-up urban world in which the characters find themselves.
Too bad there's so much plot getting in the way of the visual story here. The start-and-stop storytelling means Push never finds a consistent tone, and as a result you wish you could turn down the volume and just watch the pretty pictures. Alas, though, you can't. And by the time Push moves through its inevitably trite PG-13 battle royale, given all the movers, bleeders, watchers, stitchers, shadows, wipers, and pushers, you feel like you've endured an inflated and exceptionally ponderous Heroes episode written by a fan of garage bands.