Former child star Dakota Fanning is currently in an unenviable position: She's old enough to put her wise-beyond-her-years kid movies like I Am Sam and Man on Fire behind her, but at 14 years old, she's not quite developed as a genuine adult actress capable of maintaining screen presence through any green-screen miming or bad writing.
The tween action farce Push, and several other films she's hawking right now, should be looked upon as her wobbly transitional period from precociousness to natural emoting. This week she also voices the title character in Coraline and sounds thoroughly uncomfortable playing a dim-witted tween. Just released on DVD on Tuesday is Hounddog, the controversial 2007 Southern drama in which her 12-year-old character finds solace in the music of Elvis Presley after suffering a brutal sexual assault, and again, Fanning fails to convince. In Push , one can actually witness her practicing adult effortlessness, struggling with it and ultimately coming up short.
The little shards of plot that can be deciphered from the film concern a sought-after briefcase, an underworld full of mind-readers, some telekinetic meatheads and a couple of Asian guys whose high-pitched scream can explode human heads.
Alfred Hitchcock coined the term 'MacGuffinâ?� for an object that a movie's characters desire that drives the plot but has no real relevance to the action taking place (e.g., the Maltese falcon). Push is all MacGuffin. Of the two-hour running time, at least an hour and 40 minutes are spent watching a hopelessly wooden Chris Evans (Fantastic Four), Fanning and former child actor Camilla Belle ' whose appallingly clueless performance elicited jaw-dropping shock and a few chuckles at the packed screening I attended ' talk about a briefcase and how they need to get it for reasons completely unclear. Two rival factions, one led by a hammy Djimon Hounsou, also want the briefcase and to kill the three teens after it ' except that Hounsou and many others inform the kids explicitly that fortunetellers predict the heroes will die, so why these evil factions are still trying to kill them and risk altering that positive (for their purposes) outcome can only be known by the writer, David Bourla (whose last film starred Andy Dick).
Regardless, the selling point here is the special effects, which don't even approximate the swirling apocalypse depicted on the movie's poster. Rather, they seem more closely aligned with the original Mortal Kombat: Someone lifts a finger and something much larger moves. The climactic battle involves Evans and a bad guy punching each other, except they're both telekinetic, so sound effects do the job of informing us that, because of their powers, the punches land extra hard.
Believe me, it's not worth wading through two hours of atrocious dialogue delivered awkwardly to watch two men punch each other (apparently quite hard!) only to arrive at a resolution that the filmmakers ran out of either money or time to film, because it's not shown. There are a few hints that it's the setup for a sequel. Somehow I doubt that will happen.
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