Monday, March 9, 2009


There are two types of bad movies. There's the bad movie that was clearly approved and constructed by greedy execs with dollar signs in their eyes, a work of pure dispassionate business, like Aaron Seltzer & Jason Friedberg's "spoofs" or College or Ghost Rider or something; the artistry of the craft irrelevant. Then there's the bad movie that seems like a passion project gone wrong, a work of frenzied yet misplaced enthusiasm by a filmmaker who lacks the proper filters for his creativity, a sort of half-developed cinematic fetus delivered months too early. See Lady in the Water, The Spirit, etc.

Push is the latter. No, it's not nearly as bad as Lady in the Water, but it's a brutally, fascinating ugly mess of a superhero movie. Presenting a fully-realized alternate sci-fi world of "Pushers" who can control your thoughts, "Movers" who have telekinesis, "Watchers" who can read the future, and many more paranormal humans brought into being by Nazi experimentation and fostered by world governments since then, it plays out like a bizarre, grayscale, fever-dream version of X-Men and it seems like this is a world the screenwriter has been lovingly constructing in his mind since he was a teenager.

The degree to which this movie's plot is incomprehensible cannot be overstated. Most shitty superhero movies suffer from insulting simplicity, basically saying "this is Good Guy, this is Bad Guy, watch Good Guy kill Bad Guy." This is not the plot of Push. I wish. Watching and understanding Push makes watching and understanding Syriana with a hangover seem easy, it makes The Big Sleep look as streamlined and easy-to-chart as Transporter 2.

In Push, things happen and characters on both sides do things and good luck if you can untangle the grotesque yarn ball of narrative threads to figure out why. It's one of the most ambitious complete failures I've seen in years. Characters lie to each other en masse, new motivations and subplots spring up like heads of the Hyrda wherever one seems resolved, neither the heroes or villains have identifiable goals, everything is manic chaos. I was reminded of Joker's explanation in The Dark Knight that "Do I really look like a guy with a plan? I just do things!"

Yeah, there's occasional action scenes to break up the lunacy (not monotony, though; this movie is brain-exploding and nonsensical, but it is not boring or monotonous), but they don't present anything you haven't seen in cinematic telekinesis battles before nor are they particularly well-photographed. As a matter of fact I was surprised to learn that this movie was all shot in Hong Kong where it purports to be set; it's all narrow alleyways and ramshack interiors and has so little Chinese urban flair I just as soon assumed it to all be shot in Los Angeles.

It's a shame because I'm an enthusiast for high-concept action premises written directly for the screen - honestly, how many big-budget movies these days aren't a sequel or based on a comic or novel or TV series? - and further a shame because Chris Evans is great and I wish he would get better roles (I liked Cellular and Sunshine, but his IMDb page is otherwise dire). But however much you may love superheroes or science fiction I can't recommend Push unless you feel you have the brains to rule Lylat to figure out the logic puzzle that is the plot. If you can do that, well, you deserve a cookie.

2 Stars out of 5

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