It's a Pleasure to Fall for 'Push'

Friday, February 6, 2009

"Push" pulls into the multiplexes without much baggage. A thriller about expatriates with paranormal powers, the movie doesn't trail an entrenched superhero franchise that has been reheated every year to offend the fanboys. Its cast, writer and director are undistinguished. This is a good thing.

The premise -- a hide-and-seek game between superhumans and a government agency in Hong Kong -- is old, but the execution is fresh, earnest and inoffensive. It's a gussied-up knockoff of a Scorsese mob movie, shellacked with an opaque sheen of Clancy-style espionage, stir-fried with a bit of Tarantino, Robert Rodriguez and the Wachowski brothers. It's the perfect brain vacation for those overtaxed by Oscar-nominated movies.

Watertight storytelling isn't the point. "Push" seems to know what it's doing, so we surrender to it and are rewarded with clever plot twists, a hip soundtrack and the unlikely-but-effective teaming of 27-year-old Chris Evans and 14-year-old Dakota Fanning.

Fanning sheds her porcelain-doll image ("War of the Worlds," "Charlotte's Web") by playing Cassie, a grungy-haired, boot-wearing Watcher, or someone with the ability to divine and then sketch images from the future. Using that skill, she knows she must search out and team with a Mover named Nick, who's hiding from a U.S. government agency called the Division. Together Cassie and Nick must snatch a briefcase from the Division or face certain death, according to Cassie's drawings of the future.

It doesn't matter what's inside the sought-after briefcase. What matters is that everyone wants it, and everyone has special powers that allow for double crosses, Catch-22s, shortcuts and other plot acrobatics.

As fantastical as all that sounds, the pleasure of "Push" comes from its glamorized grit, its no-nonsense pacing and the committed performances of the actors roughhousing in the gray area between heroism and villainy. It's pure popcorn, popped fresh, doused in butter and sprinkled with soy sauce.

-- Dan Zak

Push PG-13, 111 minutes Contains violence, brief strong language, smoking and a scene of teen drinking. Area theaters.

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