Director Paul McGuigan's film can't decide if it wants to be a lame spin-off of David Cronenberg's Scanners or a mediocre episode of Heroes. Either way you slice it, this psychokinetic actioner about sexy young stars with mind-over-matter powers is an inert mess, rehashing ideas from better, more interesting films.
Desperate to avoid the shadowy organization that killed his father, Nick Gant (Chris Evans) is a telekinetic living off the grid in Hong Kong. Enter 13-year-old Cassie Holmes (Dakota Fanning), who recruits him into locating a mysterious suitcase. Soon Chinese assassins, an ex-girlfriend (Camilla Belle) and a team of paranormal "Division" agents led by Djimon Hounsou are all in pursuit. They each have abilities that are described by colorful monikers — sniffers, bleeders, pushers, screamers, etc. — and they all want the contents of the case. In the end, it's all an excuse to insert a few marginally cool effects in a less than marginal film.
Cluttered without being complex, David Bourla's screenplay unfolds like one of those comic book fanboy-generated scripts that never went through a proper revision process. After presenting a passable first act, it throws ideas from a half-dozen other films into a blender and hits puree. Voilà: instant crap.
What ends up giving the movie its only distinction is the setting and style. McGuigan (Lucky Number Slevin) has a photographer's eye for interesting composition, making great use of his Hong Kong locations. He keeps the visuals fresh and interesting, exploiting a rich palette of colors and authentic textures. Unfortunately, when it comes to storytelling, he knows but two speeds: fast and slow. The result is frantic action scenes devoid of thrills, and expository lulls that play like, well, expository lulls.
The best thing about the film's cast is that Evans has charisma to burn. The Fantastic Four star (he was the Human Torch) has got an undeniably winning and physical presence, but lacks the chops to create a memorable character. Poor Dakota Fanning, on the other hand, stumbles badly in her first young adult role. Her agent should be rapped for pushing her into a part that ignores her strengths and is beyond her reach. Fanning does charm, sweetness and savvy fine. Ellen Page cynical smartass or Haley Joel Osment haunted just ain't her thing. The miniskirt only makes it worse. In particular, a scene in which Fanning's supposed to be drunk makes clear that this talented 'tween simply doesn't have the life experience to pull off the charade.
In this year of interesting and ambitious superhero films, there's no getting around that Push is a day late and a dollar short. As part of its finale, hero Evans comes up with a genius plan to thwart the evil psychics that pursue him. "What if nothing we did made sense?" he asks. Unfortunately, the film answers the question all too well.
Jeff Meyers writes about film for Metro Times. Send comments to email@example.com.