Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Chronic Review: Push

Here's the fact: Push, by all accounts, is a failure. Boxofficemojo.com estimates the production budget for the film at $38M, and it has thus far taken in around $20M. This film is not going to make money in box office receipts.

Push was also pounded into paste by just about everyone who reviewed it. It's Rotten Tomatoes rating is currently sitting at 25%, which is bad. Not Catwoman bad. But noticeably not good.

So Push is an abject failure. Except it really isn't.

There are things to like about this movie. Let's start with Dakota Fanning, who was perfectly cast as Cassie, the thirteen-going-on-thirty-year-old precog who drives the story. She's petulant without being irritating, almost adorable in her bitchiness because of the transparent vulnerability she brought to the role.

Chris Evans is also very likable as Nick, the telekinetic. In fact the whole film is populated with odd characters that seem to fit perfectly in the Push mythos. Yes, on the whole the cast is probably too beautiful to really mimic "real life", whatever that is.

But many of these characters are very odd, and not in the circus sideshow way. In the way many people you meet are slightly out of synch with what constitutes bland normalcy. If real people were roped into a project like Division, they would look more like the folks we meet in Push, and less like the folks we meet in Bryan Singer's X-Men, is what I'm saying.

I also enjoyed the fact that this was a superhero movie without baggage. Part of the charm of seeing these comic book adaptations is seeing old favorites come to life. But natch, this also a great downfall.

To pick on the the X-Men again, one watches those films and says "Well, that's Halle Barre there. And she brings not one once of the necessary nobility and mystique to the character of Ororo."

Or you look at Nightcrawler coated with a series of ridiculous glyphs and say to yourself "Self, I understand that they're trying to pay homage in some way to the religious elements of that character. But those are really stupid, and this character is a wet towel. Where is Kurt Wagner the swashbuckler?"

And at that point your dreams are dashed because you are inevitably comparing them to the source material. Usually unfavorably. And Push has none of that - it's like reading a version of X-Men for the first time, and it's fun.

I like the fact that the film isn't set in America, and that Nick speaks Cantonese. I like the fact that Watchers drink booze for better fortune-telling, even if they aren't old enough for a driver's license. I like the fact that the screenwriters let Cassie and Nick argue about the rendering of a "shimmering bead" for far too long.

There is a palpable infectious energy to the picture, and they do a serviceable job of trying to build a mythology around Division and its gifted but mostly persecuted membership. I think that audience investment hangs largely on two things for Push:

A) The burgeoning friendship between Nick and young Cassie
B) The labyrinthine plot focused upon the contents of a mysterious black case

A worked for me just fine, and B is where this movie really couldn't get out of its own way. There is a trend lately where films get too busy proving how complicated, twisty, and clever they are. One would prefer they just be interesting. Push is one of those too clever for its own good films.

These kind of movies pay off when the viewer is rewarded at the end with an "aha!" moment of clarity. "So this is why that confusing nonsense happened!" After getting to the end of Push, there seem to be thirty untied knots. Few of them make sense upon recollection, and none of them really add much to the mix. It didn't need those knots.

I want to be clear about this - I enjoyed this film. It's clear at the end that the writers are trying to build a franchise, and I believe they have a premise and some characters that can support it. I hope that a second film gets made.

Push pales when compared to The Dark Knight or Iron Man, it's true. But it is not just limp genre fare like, say...Jumper. I say you may want to avoid paying $10 for a movie ticket, but it's absolutely worth renting the DVD if you're a comic book fan.

- Ryan

1 comment:

Audrey said...

Hmm, looks like I may have to rescind my official write-off of this one. I may give it a shot after all.