Push ** (2 stars)
Set "two days from now," in a Hong Kong where you can't walk 10 yards without encountering someone with mutant powers (including a posse of Asians whose power consists of making bug eyes and bursting glass fish-tanks with their high-decibel shrieks), Push watches as a bunch of second-generation mutants have-at each other, with the future of all Mutantdom as the prize!
For the good guys, we have Chris Evans' Nick, who can move things with his mind (including guns - very cool), and Dakota Fanning's Cassie, who can draw pictures of what might be the future, unless things change. Among the bad guys, we have Djimon Hounsou's menacingly mysterious agent of some menacingly mysterious government agency, who specializes in looking very menacing; some British guy who doesn't say much, but is even better at moving stuff than Nick is; and, of course, the aforementioned posse.
They're all after this briefcase with a hypodermic needle inside that might contain the key to super-mutantdom.
Push has plenty of attitude to go with an overabundance of style, in service to the sort of labyrinthine plot where nothing is as it seems, that seems impressive as long as you don't think about it too hard. On the plus side, director Paul McGuigan (Lucky Number Slevin) keeps things moving, and Fanning's continuing development as a young actress still testing her limits is fun to watch. Keep your eye on Camilla Belle's Kira; she's the real wild card here, and the only character with more than one dimension.
Also out today: The great John Barrymore, now perhaps better known as Drew's grandfather, bursts from the silent screen in the four-disc John Barrymore Collection (Kino, $59.95), which includes 1922's Sherlock Holmes (first time on DVD), 1928's Tempest, 1927's The Beloved Rogue and 1920's startling Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde.
- Chris Kaltenbach
BLACKsummers'night *** 1/2 (3 1/2 stars)
Maxwell (Columbia). $13.97.
After three sumptuous neo-soul albums released from 1996 to 2001, Maxwell dropped out from the recording industry for nearly a decade. While patiently piecing together enough music for what he promises will be a trilogy of albums, he fell in and out of love. That affair informs the first of his comeback discs, BLACKsummers'night. It begins with opposing questions: "Can you forgive me?" he asks in the first song; "How can you be so cold?" he mutters in the second. In exploring the chasm between those two emotional poles, Maxwell looks at his vulnerabilities and idiosyncrasies, while toughening up his sound. Darting horns and skittering bass lines frame allusive lyrics and slippery melodies. Once the creamiest of crooners, Maxwell is no longer just about whispery come-on's and feathery falsetto fights. His voice gains some grit, particularly on the pleading "Love You," and the tougher textures add an appealing dimension. At its best, BLACKsummers'night evokes the complex late 1970s albums of Marvin Gaye, when the singer was making his most deeply personal music, sometimes without regard to commercial considerations. It's free of gimmicks (Hey, an R&B; record without Auto-Tuned vocals!) or trendy producers (No Kanye, no Timbaland; instead, guitarist Hod David does most of the work). No wonder BLACKsummers'night walks its own confident path down the artier fringe of R&B.;
- Greg Kot, Tribune Newspapers
American Central Dust *** (3 stars)
Son Volt (Rounder). $15.98.
Much like the title of his sixth album with Son Volt, Jay Farrar offers a stolid, Midwestern perspective on American music that has been around for centuries, pre-dating rock 'n' roll and even electricity.
He sings variations on the same heartbreaking melody in a melodious yet conversational baritone and plays at a tempo - slow and slower-that suits his world-weary characters. They are mired in industrial-age dust and rust, and sometimes their ghosts rise from an equally unforgiving past (an 1865 steamboat disaster in "Sultana") to offer testimony. Fiddle, pedal steel and accordion ornament the mournful drone of Farrar's melodies.
Nothing is done to excess, though sometimes one wishes Farrar would push himself and his guitar a little harder outside its comfort zone. Yes, there's plenty of blues, folk and country intimacy, but where's the rock 'n' roll? That quibble aside, the songs are solid, and sometimes stellar, especially "Cocaine and Ashes," a surprisingly touching tribute to Keith Richards and his unconventional love.
- Greg Kot, Tribune Newspapers
MySims Racing *** (3 stars)
Nintendo Wii, Nintendo DS. $29.99-$39.99.
MySims Racing plays a heck of a lot like the Mario Kart series but has enough of its own merits to stand out as an alternative to Nintendo's kid-friendly racer.
The driving action is very similar to the Kart games. After designing a little Sim character, players zoom along tracks against several rival drivers, picking up attack and defense items along the way, jumping over obstacles and avoiding hazards.
Each course is littered with colored gems that increase a driver's boost meter for extra speed and in story mode can be used along with blueprints to purchase performance and cosmetic upgrades for the player's cars.
The three kinds of cars (compact, midsize and large) can be customized and kitted out however a player chooses, with new parts becoming available all the time as players complete tasks for various characters who live in the game's racing town.
Outside of the story mode, players can face off against each other in split-screen play or take on solo races, multi-course championships and time trials.
- Justin Heoger, McClatchy Newspapers