'Push': Its energy may pull you in

When Push comes to shove, Chris Evans - as on-the-lam psychic dude Nick Gant - lifts his hand, squints his eye, and bodies go flying, hurled into fish tanks by sheer force of will. Telekinesis, thank you very much.

A nifty action piece set mostly in Hong Kong and boasting opposing forces of good guys, bad guys and shadowy government agents all equipped with paranormal abilities (clairvoyance, mind reading, the ability to smell stuff really well), Push has a cool, sinewy style, energy to burn and Dakota Fanning as a knowing 13-year-old who can see into the future.

Directed by Paul McGuigan (The Acid House, Lucky Number Slevin) from a hopscotching screenplay by David Bourla, Push starts with a "10 years ago" prologue: A dad and his kid are on the run from a squad of G-men led by the humorless Djimon Hounsou. They're in a hotel, and just before the fatal moment of discovery, the father tells his kid, Nick, "Someday a girl is going to give you a flower."

Never has such a benign line been delivered with such a sense of dread and distress. Next thing, Dad is dead and Nick has skulked off, understandably shaken.

Cut to the present day and Nick is living in a squalid Hong Kong flat. He's fluent in Cantonese and trying out his telekinetic powers playing craps - without much success.

And then along comes this girl, Cassie - Fanning, with pink streaks in her hair and a sketchbook where she draws her visions of events yet to be. And she offers Nick, yes, a flower. Push is off and running.

There are similarities style-wise, and plot-wise, to the Bourne movies here: The action is fast and frenetic, the camera jumps and swoops, capturing the teeming, tumultuous buzz of a faraway metropolis. And memory erasure, or the implanting of false memories, is key.

So when Nick, a "mover," and Cassie, a "watcher," meet up with Kira (Camilla Belle, looking like a Japanese anime heroine), a "pusher" who can worm her way into other people's minds, influencing their actions by planting thoughts and memories, all heck breaks loose. The government wants Kira back in the fold, while Nick and Cassie try to thwart the secret agency's sinister plan to use a "psychic steroid" to exploit their paranormal powers.

Add a gang of Hong Kong "bleeders" - tattooed thugs who scream at such high decibels that they can shatter glass and pop blood vessels. And then add a slinky Chinese femme fatale (ER's Ming-Na Wen), a "shift" who can transform the appearance of objects, and a "stitch," a kind of super-powered chiropractor, and you've got the makings of a trippy, nonstop action fest, with the feel of a really good episode of Heroes.

Push zooms along, pausing for the briefest of romantic interludes between Evans and Belle, and for the snappy back-talk and moody meditations of Fanning's Cassie. Remember Natalie Portman as the kid in Luc Besson's The Professional? Fanning shows a similar sophistication and self-awareness, in the tiny, tremulous frame of a young teen.

The film loses some of its inventiveness, and its momentum, with a finale set atop an under-construction skyscraper. Glass goes shattering, stunt-doubles go somersaulting and bullets ricochet around and around - there's got to be a smarter, more satisfying way to wrap these things up. Perhaps if there's a sequel, Cassie can peer ahead to Hollywood 2020, and see how it's being done.

Contact movie critic Steven Rea at 215-854-5629 or srea@phillynews.com. Read his blog, "On Movies Online," at http://go.philly.com/onmovies.


Directed by Paul McGuigan. With Joel Gretsch, Dakota Fanning, Scott Michael Campbell, Djimon Hounsou, Camilla Belle, Nate Mooney, Neil Jackson, Chris Evans, Maggie Siff, Colin Ford. Distributed by Summit Entertainment.

Running time: 1 hours, 51 minutes.

Parent's guide: PG-13 (for intense sequences of violence and action, brief strong language, smoking and a scene of teen drinking).