Push
Oh, Lionel Richie – Your songs are like a portrait of the future. Now Chris Evans is dancing on the ceiling!

Theatrical Release Date: 02/06/2009
Director: Paul McGuigan
Cast: Chris Evans, Dakota Fanning, Camilla Belle, Djimon Hounsou, Lu Lu, Cliff Curtis, Ming-Na, Neil Jackson, Nate Mooney

Shuffled into the movie mix is a comic book film not getting the kind of attention one might expect, probably because the source material isn’t from either the DC or Marvel Universe. No, “Push” comes from Wildstorm comics and while I’m all for big budget spectaculars, I will say that this film is a welcome breath of fresh energy into the genre and hopefully yet another sign that comic book adaptations don’t have to be cheesy and over-the-top.

Normally, watching people with super powers duke it out is a CGI slugfest that, while satisfying on one level, can become a bit of a bore. However, in presenting the material with a straight face and shooting in Hong Kong using as many practical effects as possible, director Paul McGuigan has delivered a grittier representation. Additionally, the color palette and film grain used by McGuigan and company served to emphasize the murky nature of the world being presented. I’m not saying this is a revolutionary film, or the best comic book based film of all time … but I’m genuinely surprised and excited by how much I enjoyed receiving a more adult and matter-of-fact take on the genre.

While the plot isn’t very original (involving people with special abilities and shadowy government agencies), it helps that the powers are largely psychic rather than overtly physical ones like super strength or acid spit (Some are physically manifested, like telekinesis or emitting high pitched noise but they’re all rooted in the mind). This added a subtle nuance that helped to separate it from the chaff.

Of course, one of the key components to establishing a believable world for all of these fantasy elements is the cast. Chris Evans plays a telekinetic (or “Mover”) who is dragged into a plot to expose the U.S. government’s agency of super powered folk, named Division. This is one of many key changes from the comic book, which I might normally be more perturbed at – except that the changes made here do work and are essentially taking on the same story (albeit ignoring one of the cooler mysteries of a uniquely enhanced character and trading it for the more traditional background story of Evan being on the run ever since Division killed his similarly powered father).

However, Evans is on my short list for entertaining action stars as of late … and the only thing working in the “Fantastic Four” series (please don’t make a third one, Hollywood). He ably embodies the role and is a good mix of sarcasm, dry wit and physicality – which is perfect for the character.

The catalyst that brings him into the fight is Dakota Fanning, who as a Watcher has the ability to see the future. She too is on the run, and one of the most unpredictable elements of the film (though there aren’t too many) is whether her fledgling powers will be enough to help outwit their opponents – whether our heroes will live or, thanks to this not being a full on mainstream film, whether some will fall by the wayside.

Their support comes from other specially talented folk in the forms of Cliff Curtis, Ming-Na and Nate Mooney. Each bring a welcome layer of depth to the ensemble and help expand the scope of the struggle. While many filmgoers will see the twists and turns coming, the specific nature of the powers on display, while also great tools for espionage, also help turn the film into a psychic game of cat and mouse – not only for the characters but for the audience as they try to guess how far the filmmakers will go to deceive them.

Of course, for all the good that the film embodies, that isn’t to say there aren’t some flaws. While it would have complicated things significantly for the screenwriter, I was more than a little annoyed at the lack of support Djimon Hounsou brings with him to Hong Kong in his quest to stop Division’s unraveling. In the comics, there’s usually a team of operatives that attempt to accomplish any objectives. Evans and Fanning form their own little unit but Hounsou’s arrogance and over-confidence get the better of his operational wisdom.

That’s a fairly minor nitpick but of greater concern is Camilla Belle. After seeing “The Quiet“, where the point of the role was to be emotionally shutdown, I had hopes she would take challenging roles and fill them appropriately. I cast “10,000 B.C.” aside as a money making opportunity, not worried that her lack of animation was something to do with her and not the script or direction. However, now having seen “Push”, I can’t say I see a difference in any of her characters. They are all bland, expressionless and bordering on robotic. She’s not quite the female version of Cameron Bright (who may actually be a robot) but unless she differentiates her characters sometime soon, I might just have to believe that Hollywood has found a way to computer generate actors.

Still, if you are a fan of sci-fi and/or comic books and need a quick fix, “Push” will fit the bill and I’m going to give it a solid 3 out of 5. If the franchise can retain Evans, Fanning and the majority of its supporting cast (Curtis, Mooney and Ming-Na especially), then I’m hopeful that it will make enough money to see a sequel greenlit. There is a lot of potential still to be tapped here and under the right guidance, I could definitely see this becoming a cult favorite, if not a minor phenomenon.