dir: Paul McGuigan
[img_assist|nid=712|title=Get me better film roles, or I'll shoot you|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=551|height=367]
I love Hong Kong, I really do. That doesn’t mean I’m going to like any film just because it’s set there. But I really do love the place, visually speaking at least. It’s not because I have any personal experience of the place, or because of my heritage, or because of any deep-seeded identification I have with the former British colony. I just like it, is all, and have watched around a thousand flicks set there.
This film Push has a lot of great cityscape footage of Hong Kong, truly it does. It mixes the high art cityscape stuff with postcard shots and, most importantly for me, the shots revealing the commonplace squalor of some areas, with the hustle and bustle of places like Mongkok, Wanchai, Kowloon Bay and all the rest, whether tourist destinations or not, whether ‘pretty’, grungy or not.
Beautiful, beautiful images of a real city that looks almost like what Ridley Scott was going for with Blade Runner, except that it’s real, and it’s a place even more thriving, alive, chintzy and garish than you can imagine, with the quicksilver of commerce, greed and violence running through the city’s veins, in the abstract perhaps more than in fact. All of this I could see and think about as I watched this amazing city depicted in this film.
As I watched and enjoyed all these images and locations, the problem for me was that there were often these people’s heads and bodies popping up and blocking my view of the scenery. They would also talk quite often, and there’d be this annoying music playing which would also distract me from what I was looking at. I didn’t like that at all.
Didn’t like it one bit. And then, when I started focussing more on what the annoying talking people were saying, and I started being dragged into a plot retarded even by the standards of the average retardation of your average retarded action-y slightly sci-fi movie, I really started wishing that there were less people interrupting my view.
It’s safe to say that, in my opinion, this would have been a masterpiece if you could edit the actors out of it.
It wasn’t exactly a “get off my lawn” experience, but I was a bit disappointed by this convoluted and, in the end, fruitless endeavour. I am the prospective demographic for just these kinds of flicks, and even I thought it was nonsense.
But then, what do I know. Push is, as far as I can tell, a story about someone with psychic powers trying to get themselves out of an evil medical/fascist containment facility run by The Division. The Division is a generic transnational evil organisation whose job it is to capture/control/kill people with various abilities arising from Nazi experimentation during World War II. I wish that last phrase was a joke on my part, but sadly for you, unfortunate reader/viewer, it’s not.
So there’s people with the ability to foresee any one of a number of potential futures, called watchers; there’s pushers, who can compel you to do anything they want or implant fabricated memories in your mind, there’s bleeders, who scream at you until your internal organs rupture (I’ve been out with a few of them), movers who can literally push stuff around at will, shadows, who shield you from the abilities of others, shifters, who can transform matter temporarily into whatever they want, and probably a shitload of other useless abilities we can easily glide over. I’m sure there’s probably ones I’ve forgotten about such as sweathogs, who can magically see through the walls only of women’s change rooms, and jerkers, who can masturbate at the speed of light.
Whatever other permutations and combinations exist out there, our flick concerns itself with ones who don’t look like they have a fucking clue what they’re doing, with very competent baddies arrayed against them. One youngish American guy with the ability to almost just tip dice the way he wants, is the usual slightly scuzzy looking reluctant hero type who has to man up and save the day in the final reel. I think his name was Nick (Chris Evans), but it’s not like it really matters. Nick is just waiting for something to come along, and, lucky him, it comes along in the form of a young girl with both the ability to kinda foresee the future and to represent how difficult it’s going to be for a child star to transition to adolescent roles. Dakota Fanning is truly trapped within the throes of those awkward teen years where one’s body rebels in hideous and gangly ways. She looks like a cross between a young Courtney Love and one of those evil Olsen twins. Or I guess technically she looks like all three.
It’s also funny to me because she’s got braces on. I don’t know why I found that funny, I just did.
Cassie can see glimpses of the future, but of course not well enough to derail the bad guys or shorten the film’s near two-hour running time. Again, of course, the watchers working for the bad guys see the future (or potential futures) so well that the plot is never supposed to hit roadblocks that would render the plotholes insurmountable. In other words, stories like this contain, much to any sane audience’s regret, a built in mechanism for getting out of every seemingly painted-in corner.
With good screenwriters, such a lazy yet powerful get-out-of-jail-free card would be used sparingly, even respectfully, knowing that overuse might test the patience or stupidity of the audience. Let’s just say no-one involved in putting this mediocre plot had any qualms about using it every few fucking seconds.
Any time it looks like someone is really in trouble, then someone will pop out of nowhere, and say something along the lines of “well, I was told fourteen years ago to be here at this particular time to save you”, or “she must have foreseen all of this from the start”, or something equally embarrassing.
One of the primary rules of coming up with your own rulebook for the universe that a story inhabits is this: if you write the rules governing how something happens or doesn’t happen, then you’re bound by them. If you break your own rules for no good purpose other than it keeps the plot moving along on to the next pointless sequence, then you’re telling me as a viewer that I have no reason to take what you’ve put together seriously.
Most of this flick’s characters spend most of this flick in pursuit of a suitcase containing a syringe of black fluid. To call this a maguffin of the highest order would be understating matters significantly.
At least a quarter of the movie’s dialogue runs along the lines of “who has the case, we have to get the case, we can’t let them get the case, the case the case my left kidney for the case”. As with all great cinematic maguffins the contents of the case, pursued by every single character in the film, don’t really amount to anything in the end apart from being the Great Motivator that gets everything moving.
Evil Division head Carver (the truly slumming Djimon Hounsou, who deserves way better than these roles) chases everyone in the flick, especially Nick, whose father he killed in the movie’s introduction. I can barely understand what he’s doing throughout the film. I know he wants the case, the case, the case, but everything else he does confuses and perplexes me.
At least his henchmen know their shit. Perhaps a homage to the more gun-happy Hong Kong of my youth, there is a tremendous shoot-out in a restaurant which plays out like a fantasy version of John Woo’s masterful tea house sequence in Hard Boiled, a kind of alternate reality – how would it play out if - Chow Yun Fat and his enemies combined telekinesis with gun carnage. It’s a great sequence, because Nick and his opponent Victor (Neil Jackson) really play around with the established elements of the action sequence as we’ve come to expect it.
There’s another great early scene where Cassie and Nick are being pursued by screaming bleeders in a fish market with predictable results, what with the fish tanks all over the place, but it looks pretty fearsome.
This doesn’t mean it’s an action film, not by a long stretch. Most of the film is taken up with Dakota Fanning spitting poorly-written exposition out, in a very awkward fashion, in between doodling prognostications of doom into her notepad. People sit around, they mope, they talk or complain a bit more, then stuff flies out of nowhere and whacks them in the head. Mostly, that thing flying out of nowhere is Dakota Fanning.
But she’s not the worst of it. A character called Kira (Camilla Belle), who escaped from the Division, who may or may not be Nick’s former girlfriend, gives a performance so lifeless that I kept expecting people to rush in with defibrillator paddles to yell “Clear!” before zapping her with 300 or so volts. Terrible, just terrible. Everything I’ve seen this girl in has been terrible, but, who knows, maybe she’ll improve in a few decades or so. Rarely have I seen an actor deliver crap dialogue so reluctantly, like a teenager performing a tedious chore.
Maybe she’s got the right idea. Delivering dialogue, especially this dialogue, is soooo taxing. Especially when she could just be delivering her lines by text message instead.
Look, as much as I disliked the plot, I didn’t mind the two lead performances too much, even though Chris Evans, who’s building his reputation with solid performances in smaller flicks (like Sunshine, like Street Kings), and tearing that same rep down with utter crap like the Fantastic Four flicks, does good in what is essentially a genre role. Even delivering a solid performance here, making the unbelievable slightly more believable, can’t compete with a lame plot, but in the end you have to wonder how much or little it really matters.
It’s also nice to see Cliff Curtis in a small supporting role (who also co-starred with Evans in Sunshine), seeing as he plays an ex-Division heavy who now spends his days wearing pricy suits and ripping off the hostesses and bar girls (read: prostitutes) of Hong Kong with his ability to make paper look like serious money.
For me, something like this falls into that pleasant enough slot inhabited by flicks like Jumper, the Narnia flicks and other juvenilia, where I’m actually not too offended by bad performances or rampant nonsense plot holes as long as there are enough scenes of fantasy effects and, in Push’s case, great shots of my beloved Hong Kong. Really, I’m an easy sell, and whilst I don’t consider it a good film, I don’t consider it a complete waste of my time.
It might be, on the other hand, a waste of yours.
6 times I wouldn’t do 1 per cent of the stupid things the characters do in this movie if I had any of these abilities out of 10
“There are special people in this world. We don't ask to be special. We're just born this way” – that Ayn Rand has a lot to answer for, Push.