At Quality 16 and Showcase

2 out of 5 stars

February is a notorious dumping ground for sub-par superhero movies (see “Ghost Rider” and “Jumper”). Unfortunately, “Push” follows in this regrettable tradition. The film’s visual beauty and brilliantly executed action sequences are bogged down by a convoluted storyline with super-powered characters who are impossible to track. It’s nothing more than a big-budget, well-directed episode of “Heroes.”

In the universe of “Push,” people with superhuman abilities live among ordinary citizens. The crackpot origin of their powers is given in the opening credits, but by the end of the movie few viewers will remember or care. People with superpowers are tracked by Division, a shady government agency. To accomplish their mysterious evil agenda, Division is developing a serum that will enhance peoples’ superpowers. The story follows a woman named Kira (Camilla Belle, “10,000 BC”), who escapes from Division with the only sample of this serum and flees to Hong Kong. There, she finds help among a group of superhumans, including Nick (Chris Evans, “Fantastic Four”) and Cassie, played by ageless wonder Dakota Fanning (“War of the Worlds”). What follows is a spectacularly confusing tale comprised of a few dazzling set pieces mixed with long-winded exposition.

“Push” divides individuals into categories by their abilities. The film’s title comes from the most powerful group, known as Pushers, who have the ability to “push” any thought into someone’s mind. Nick is a Mover who can telekinetically move objects; Cassie is a Watcher who has visions of future events. The rest of this article could be spent listing the remaining categories; characters with new powers seem to appear whenever it’s convenient for the plot.

The film’s main characters are all action movie stereotypes, but a handful of quirks make their depictions seem fresh. Nick is the goofy-yet-vulnerable protagonist hoping to avenge his father’s death. Cassie is the sassy, all-knowing teenager. Both have grudges against Division: it killed Nick’s father and has Cassie’s mother in custody. Part of the film’s limited appeal is the heroes’ ineptitude. Unlike most superheroes, Nick and Cassie are far from experts with their abilities. Nick can’t even use his powers to win a dice game in a back alley and the far-superior Division agents beat him up throughout the movie. Cassie, meanwhile, constantly misinterprets her visions. For some reason, she believes alcohol will clarify these visions and ends up buying a bottle of vodka. Yes, Dakota Fanning gets drunk in this movie.

Narrative failures aside, “Push” is a feast for the eyes. It was filmed on location in Hong Kong, with an impressive lack of green screens. The city comes alive in the hands of director Paul McGuigan (“Lucky Number Slevin”), treating audiences to sequences in the slums as well as glitzy casinos. The action sequences are easily the most engaging sections of the film. They are shot in the claustrophobic, shaky style of “The Bourne Ultimatum” against the backdrop of Hong Kong’s radiant neon skyline. Unlike most spectacle movies, “Push” would have benefited from more of these tight, stunning fight scenes.

But “Push” just can’t seem to find its target audience. There isn’t enough violence for action junkies, comic book geeks will roll their eyes at the run-of-the mill superpowers and the unnecessarily complex plot will drive away viewers who just want to pass time. McGuigan is a true talent and will become a Hollywood mainstay as soon as he has a proper script with which to work. But “Push” is full of so many double-crossings and plot holes that few will walk out of the theater with a clear understanding of what happened.

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