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Push

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Saw previews for Push some months back, and it looked intriguing: guys with telekinesis fighting each other. I came away from the trailer with the impression that it would be a fun over-the-top mindless summer action movie.

Got it from Netflix a couple weeks ago. Today I was in a bad mood—unhappy/grumpy about various things—and figured a mindless action movie was just what I needed. So I got an egg-salad sandwich from Togo's (used to get sandwiches there as a kid, and then again pretty often when I was working in Redwood Shores a few years back, but haven't had one of their sandwiches in years; but it's kind of comfort food for me), and came home and watched the movie.

It quickly became clear, from the style of the opening titles, that this was going to be something a little smarter and more complicated than the mindless action flick I was expecting. But it was also kind of intriguing-sounding, so I kept watching.

And I enjoyed it a fair bit. It's full of huge plot holes (though I suspect many of those could've been filled by giving us a slightly clearer idea of how the powers worked), and it's not Great Cinema by any means; but it's worth watching if you like this kind of thing.

It didn't use action-movie genre conventions so much—there are certainly action scenes, but a lot of the movie is talking and hiding and following a somewhat complicated plot, with hidden information and reveals and twists. I think some of its genre conventions actually come from heist/con movies. The screenwriter, David Bourla, says in an interview that he originally intended it to be a low-key film noir thriller; I think some of that feel is still there in the final movie, in a good way.

(He also notes: "The joke has been that if there's a sequel, it will be called Push Harder.")

Sadly, not everyone agrees with me that it works. For example, the Screen Daily review says, among other things, that the "screenplay [...] is a jumbled mess of narrative cliches and poor execution, at once terribly conventional and needlessly complex." I suppose that's kind of true; but certain kinds of conventionality and cliches work for me in certain kinds of movies, and I enjoyed the complexity here.

It's funny—I'm kind of tired of reading stories in which mutants or superpowered teens get kidnapped by the government and experimented on in secret labs, but here it didn't bother me.

Some other things I liked:

  • The setting. The whole movie was filmed on location in Hong Kong, and unlike a lot of other actiony movies, this one didn't seem to me to use Hong Kong as pure exotic backdrop. The protagonist has apparently lived there for some time; he speaks the language, he knows various locals, he eats food from street vendors casually. It's true that most of the locals are primarily there to help the white protagonist (except for the other locals who are bad guys out to kill him), and the movie doesn't delve deeply into local culture or politics or anything; but even so, the setting felt more integral and less exoticized than I'm used to in American actiony movies.
  • Perhaps relatedly, the cast was nicely international. Okay, sure, the three main protagonists are white or white-looking Americans (though one has a Brazilian mother), but there's a bunch of East Asian supporting cast members, and an actor of Maori descent, and an African actor (as the main villain, but a particularly competent and powerful villain).
  • A nice sequence near the beginning showing a bunch of things happening in a random-looking but carefully orchestrated way, which led me to hope that the rest of the plot would be similarly meticulously constructed. (It wasn't quite, but it was a little more intricate than I would initially have expected.)
  • The powers. I'm not convinced that they were internally consistent throughout the movie, but I thought it was a nice mix of psi powers, and I liked the ways in which different people's powers interacted, and the fact that both of the bad-guy groups seemed to do a good job of using their agents who had powers. (But I really could've done without the "science behind the fiction" making-of piece, in which a real-world retired Army guy says psychic powers like the ones in the movie are real and are being suppressed by those evil skeptics. Sigh.)
  • Unlike in Jumper and Wanted, the protagonist starts out knowing he has powers, knowing how to use them, and knowing about the secret organization. I found that kind of neat and refreshing.
  • I liked the actors. Didn't love them, but thought they all did a decent job, and especially liked Dakota Fanning—she's not as good here as in Coraline, but I thought she did a nice mix of kidlike and mature here.

I'd kind of like to see a Jumper/Push crossover; I think the worlds would mesh pretty well, though perhaps not the styles/tones/genres.

Anyway. Overall I enjoyed this movie; it certainly exceeded my (admittedly low) expectations.

2 Comments

Where does it sit on the brutality scale? Your review here is getting me interested, but a lot of implied pain and slaughter in the preview was keeping me away.


Interesting question. It didn't push my brutality buttons, but mine may be different from yours.

There are some pretty violent scenes, but they were handled and presented in what seemed to me to be fairly typical Hollywood action-movie styles; it's rated PG-13, and it didn't seem to me to particularly dwell on the violence or pain, at least no more than most action movies do.

Some relevant bits (no significant spoilers here):

* Several guys beat up another guy early on, on-camera.

* A couple of scenes involve characters psychically causing other characters extreme pain; among other things, this results in a couple of cases in bleeding from the ears.

* There are a couple of violent shootouts, and at least one impalement.

* There are several instances of characters shooting themselves or others in the head (but mostly in the background or off-camera).

* There's probably some implicit and off-camera torture, especially in backstory, though I don't remember for sure.

So maybe it depends on what your standards are for brutality. By real-life standards, it would be horrifically brutal; by Hollywood action-movie standards, I think it's mostly relatively tame, with the possible exception of a couple of the things mentioned above.


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