If Push comes to shove, then the only sound advice is to stay away from the theater and re-watch X-Men on DVD. Certainly, that’s an infinitely superior mutant movie, yet don’t think Push’s plagiarism ends there: It’s almost a given that the pitch meeting found the film’s creators, uh, pushing the picture by declaring, “It’s X-Men meets Jumper meets Heroes meets The Matrix!” Had they any sense of integrity, they would have ended the sentence by adding, “Only not very exciting or enjoyable!” In short, here’s another sci-fi muddle that never breaks out of its geekspeak ghetto, with David Bourla contributing an overly busy screenplay that doesn’t always come together and Paul McGuigan providing draggy direction that takes this far past the point of audience involvement. Set in Hong Kong, the film centers on the Division, a U.S. government branch whose members are tasked with seeking out folks with psychic abilities and either recruiting them or (if that fails) killing them. These psychics have different powers, which places them into one of several different categories: Pushers, Watchers, Movers (but, alas, no Shakers), Bleeders, etc. Nick (Chris Evans), a Mover, has tried to maintain a low profile, but once Cassie (Dakota Fanning), a teenage Watcher, shows up and insists he help her find Kira (stiff Camilla Belle), a Pusher who holds the answer to taking down the Division, all hell breaks loose, as Division agents (led by Djimon Hounsou as a suave Pusher) and evil Asian psychics try to take them down. Some interesting ideas soon get buried under a jumbled narrative, a choppy shooting style and an unflattering visual scheme -- all of which combine to make viewers feel as if they’re watching a movie from inside a spinning clothes dryer.
Moral ambiguity seems to be the order of the day in most of modern cinema (recent examples include Body of Lies, Traitor, The Dark Knight, and even Gran Torino), but for purely cathartic purposes, there’s still something to be said about films -- competent ones, mind you -- in which the line between Good and Evil is drawn oh-so-clearly in the sand. Take Taken, which operates on a very simple premise: Scumbags kidnap Liam Neeson’s daughter; Liam Neeson screws them up good. That’s all the plot needed for this lightning-quick (91 minutes, and not a second over) action yarn in which Neeson stars as Bryan Mills, a former CIA operative who took early retirement in order to live close to his teenage daughter Kim (Maggie Grace). Bryan’s frosty ex-wife (Famke Janssen) approves of their child traveling unsupervised with a friend (Katie Cassidy) to Paris for a vacation, but the overprotective Bryan doesn’t like the idea and only reluctantly signs off on it for the sake of Kim’s hap piness. But it turns out that father knows best after all: Within hours of their arrival, the two American teens are kidnapped by an Albanian organization that turns young women into prostitutes and sex slaves. Bryan immediately springs into action, jetting off to Paris and employing his ample CIA training to locate his missing daughter. The film’s PG-13 rating means that punches are pulled in more ways than one, and the script by Robert Mark Kamen and Luc Besson (The Fifth Element) disappointingly turns Bryan from an ordinary man with highly specialized skills in the early going into a James Bond knockoff by the third act. But Pierre Morel directs crisply and efficiently, and Neeson delivers a typically compelling performance.