Summit Entertainment // PG-13 // $34.99 // July 7, 2009
Review by Adam Tyner | posted June 30, 2009
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here's a story about government efficiency. A sprawling, secret cabal in the federal government -- known only as The Division -- slapped together a psychic steroid to enhance the powers of its superhuman soldiers. The thing is that everyone they jabbed this psychic cocktail into keeled over afterwards, and over the course of many years, The Division racked up a body count of hundreds in the process. You'd think the feds would try...y'know, injecting them with something else instead, but if they didn't have that one lone survivor from the treatment -- and if Kira (Camilla Belle) didn't dart out of their secret compound afterwards with a syringe full of the stuff -- who would the bad guys spend the next hour and forty minutes chasing after?

Oh, and by the way, Kira is a pusher. No, not in the "hey kid, you wanna fly? I got somethin' that'll really make you fly" sense; "pusher" is Division-speak for a psychic who can inject thoughts directly into someone else's brain. Whatever they shove into your cerebral cortex becomes the truth. There are oodles of classifications in their psychic program: sniffers (psychic bloodhounds that do, yes, sniff), shifts (can temporarily transmute the appearance of matter), stitches (healers, although it hurts like hell...), bleeders (who can make fish explode with their bug-eyed screaming), watchers (precogs), movers (telekinetics), and the list rambles on and on from there.

Nick (Chris Evans) is a mover. Not a shaker so much, tho'; he can't even nudge a dice game in the dingy bowels of Hong Kong his way. Doesn't matter. Cassie (Dakota Fanning) still believes in him anyway...enough to catch a flight out to the Far East to hunt him down, at least.
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She's a fledgling watcher who hasn't exactly mastered her psychic abilities either, and through the precogged doodles in her sketchbook, Cassie's convinced that Nick is her key to reclaiming a suitcase and rescuing her ::sniffles:: mother from the sinister clutches of The Division. So, Cassie and Nick are chasing after Kira and the case, the whatever-the-Chinese-equivalent-of-the-Yakuza-is-called are hunting 'em down too to enhance their own powers, and the forces of The Division -- led by another pusher (Amistad...I mean, Djimon Hounsou) -- are hot on their psychic trail as well. Thankfully, though, Nick has all sorts of superpowered buddies scattered around Hong Kong to help 'em out. Team up!

Think a comic book movie minus the comic. Push isn't based off of anything in particular -- well, minus its many similarities to Heroes, complete with a shadowy "company", a precog artist, someone who can force his thoughts on others, and on and on and on -- but its opening stretch plays like several years of backstory from a comic awkwardly shoehorned in. The first act is bogged down by heavy-handed narration and clunky, neverending exposition desperate to slather on some sort of context.

I kinda dug Push for a while there after it settles in, though. I mean, it's constantly tossing out a steady stream of new superpowers, Paul McGuigan's direction is stylish as hell, Dakota Fanning swings for the fences even if it's a swing-and-a-miss more than a couple of times (she plays drunk exactly like you'd expect a spunky 13 year old to, although that's a whole other thing), and shooting on location in Hong Kong makes for a much more interesting backdrop than New York or fake-Canadian-New-York for the eight quadrillionth time. Push is ridiculously fun as it introduces each new superpower, especially the bug-eyed lollipop mobsters with a banshee-like shriek. Once it gets a few of those squabbles out of the way and settles into something resembling a story, though...well, that's where Push really falls off the rails.

All of the
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best brawls are at the beginning and end of the movie, and the middle stretch kind of just meanders around. It juggles a metric ton of characters and a pretty convoluted plot, and although I'm a lifelong comic nerd and am kind of used to wading through that sort of thing, the smart money says a lot of people are gonna walk away confused. There are so many characters and so much dense plotting to tear through that Camilla Belle -- who's supposed to be a central focus -- is barely given a chance to register. Hell, she spends the entire movie in a daze as if someone had just jostled her out of a dead sleep. Djimon Hounsou seems sorely miscast in a role that requires less dramatic snarling and more talking. Lots and lots and lots of talking. No one could convincingly belt out exposition this stilted, but Hounsou probably has it the worst. Dakota Fanning stumbles over a lot of the dialogue too, but at least she seems like she's really giving it her all as a plucky, tweeny not-quite-a-grownup. Chris Evans, though...? Not so much. As much as I liked him in Sunshine -- and as much as I'm capable of liking anything in the Fantastic Four flicks -- he's awfully bland this time around. The middle stretch of the movie is bogged down by reams of pages of planning and scheming, and it's hardly ever injected with anything particularly cool. Unconvincing floating pistols in a Hong Kong diner don't count.

Neither the MacGuffin-chasing plot nor its characters pack all that much of a dramatic hook, so Push tends to be pretty bland when it's not chucking its effects budget at the screen. At least parts of the finale are impressive, although I'd have preferred that a movie about warring superpowered factions revolve more around...y'know, superpowers and not gunplay quite so much. Set at a construction site (where else?), I dug the psychic-fueled chop socky as well as a pusher whose demonstration of power sends a half-dozen mobsters plummeting lemming-like to their deaths. For a movie that drags so much in the middle, it sure does rush through the ending, though. It's to the point where it seems as if Push is holding off on resolving anything until the sequel rolls around, but then it quickly wraps up whatever it can in literally the last minute or two. You'd think a movie this obsessed with its own mythology would want to do a better job closing it out.

You can
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fanwank the slaughter of so many psychics away -- a watcher said that if The Division injected enough poor bastards with this goop, eventually it'd pay off! -- although nothing like that happens in the movie itself, and it's never even made clear what the ultimate goal of The Division is. Are they moustache-twirlingly evil? (Piggybacking off Nazi experiments would seem to point to "yes".) Did they have good intentions that have since been chucked out the driver's side window? Why do the bad guys pull so many of their punches? Why does The Division want that syringe so badly? Did none of the scientists on their payroll take notes or something? It can't be to protect their secrets since...well, no one's exactly subtle with their powers in this flick, damn near everyone in Hong Kong looks to have superpowers as it is, and anyone who injects themselves with the stuff is signing their own death sentence anyway. While I'm bitching, the backstory behind the obligatory romance between The Two Pretty People isn't particularly convincing, and Push never manages to do anything all that interesting with it.

Push is reams and reams of pages of ideas in search of a story. It's littered with kinda-sorta-not-really clever monosyllabic names for powers but doesn't take that same sort of aim at its stiff, bland characters, the pacing really drags in the middle, the screenplay's blinded by its fascination with its own mythology, and I'm not all that keen on the idea that apparently 80% of Hong Kong is a sprawling, tightknit community of superpowered psychics. Still, it's extremely ambitious, some of the concepts tossed around -- even if they're not executed all that well -- are pretty compelling, a slew of the superpowered scenes wind up being kinda cool, and...well, I'm a sucker for anything Camilla Belle is in. She's unseated Jennifer Connelly as sporting the most amazing eyebrows in Hollywood. There's a better movie bobbing around in here somewhere, and hiring a writer to give the screenplay more focus and yanking out twenty or thirty pages in the middle probably would've scored a higher recommendation. Push is okay -- it's worth a rental -- but I wouldn't shell or twenty-or-thirtysomething bucks to buy a copy. Rent It.

Wow. Snark all you want about the movie itself, but Push is jaw-dropping in high-def. This Blu-ray disc is inhumanly sharp and detailed, and if not for a couple of tiny white flecks, I would've assumed an image this flawless had to have been shot natively on digital video. Push sports a consistently strong sense of depth and dimensionality, and it's reinforced by deep, punchy black levels. The cinematography by longtime McGuigan collaborator Peter Sova is bright and startlingly colorful, emphasizing deep reds as well as neon greens and purples. Push's photography is deliberately degraded in a couple of stretches -- the first leg of a trek to the fishmarket and hammering out the planning-without-a-plan could've been shot on grainy 16mm stock for all I know -- and contrast is blown out in the flashbacks and jarring psychic visions. That handful of clearly intentional shots aside, Push easily warrants the nod as reference quality. It's among the most impressive 35mm productions I've caught on the format, and this is one of the first Blu-ray discs I'd grab off the shelf to show off what my home theater rig can do.

Push is letterboxed to an aspect ratio of 2.39:1, and its AVC encode is spread across both layers of this BD-50 disc.

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by a 24-bit DTS-HD Master Audio track, Push sounds pretty incredible too. This is a superhero action flick after all, so it kind of goes without saying that the sound design is spastic and hyperaggressive: thundering psychic waves, everyone and everything being telekinetically flung across the room, swirling telepathic voices, and several hundred thousand bullets whizzing around from every direction. Imaging and directionality are first-rate, and Push is littered with discrete effects and silky smooth pans from one channel to the next. The mix is bolstered by a colossal low-end too, and even with as chaotic and disorienting as the action can get, its dialogue is still rendered cleanly and clearly throughout. Push's sound design ranks up there with superhero flicks with three times its sticker price, and its lossless audio sounds unreal on Blu-ray.

Also included is a Dolby Digital 5.1 dub in Spanish, and Push's subtitles are served up in English (SDH) and Spanish. Oddly enough, the handful of intertitles scattered throughout the movie are player-generated, and that winds up looking kind of chintzy.

  • Deleted Scenes (3 min.; HD): Aside from a short snippet showing where Cassie scored her booze, Push's deleted scenes mostly revolve around the stitcher played by Maggie Siff and how exactly she re-enters (and is tossed out of) the fray. They're all pretty unnecessary, and director Paul McGuigan says as much in his optional commentary.

  • The Science Behind the Fiction (9 min.; HD): Calling
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    it "science" seems kinda disingenuous since it's just going on the word of a former special ops consultant who insists that the powers showcased throughout Push are all grounded in reality, but...yeah. Paul McGuigan and Special Ops Guy zip through all the pushers, sniffers, psychics, and healers, delving into experiments on them by governments the world over and some of the real-life military incidents their superhuman talents apparently played a key role in shaping.

  • Audio Commentary: Paul McGuigan pals around with actors Chris Evans and Dakota Fanning for this chatty, laidback commentary. It's kind of one of those chipper "everyone and everything was amazing, and I loved this and this and thisandthisandthisandthisandthis" tracks, but there are still a few decent notes scattered around in here: hitting up The Dark Knight crew for some of their helicopter shots of Hong Kong, why they lugged their cameras all the way to the Far East, how they shrugged off soundstages for pretty much the entire shoot, and coordinating and staging the spastic superheroics in the climax. The best part's hearing the cast mention how continually confused they were about what's churning along in the story while cameras were rolling. It's pretty lightweight but personable enough to still make for an okay listen.
Rounding out the extras are high-def trailers for Knowing, Astro Boy, and The Brothers Bloom. Push comes packaged with a glossy, slick-lookin' slipcase.

The Final Word
Push is an okay but uninvolving superhero flick, saddled with too much clunky exposition at the outset, not a whole lot of anything in the middle, and a mad dash to wrap everything up in the space of a minute and a half after the Big Action Climax. At least Push looks and sounds incredible on Blu-ray even if the movie itself really isn't so much. Eh, it's still worth a rental if you're into this sort of thing, though. Rent It.

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