Kernel Rating (out of 5):
MPAA Rating: PG-13 Length: 95 minutes
Age Appropriate For: 13+. The film is a generic action thriller mostly centered on parkour, so there is lots of running, jumping, scaling walls, and other dangerous-looking stunts; some gunfire and some characters die; there’s a discussion about sexual abuse in a character’s past, some kissing and dirty dancing in a club, and the implication of an abusive romantic relationship; and some cursing.
With its focus on parkour, the action film ‘Tracers’ never stops moving. But it never steps in a good direction.
By Roxana Hadadi
Of the three stars of the “Twilight” franchise, Taylor Lautner, a.k.a. the werewolf Jacob, has certainly had the least successful career post-supernatural-love triangle. In 2011, his attempt to break into the action-movie mainstream flopped with “Abduction,” and yet here we are in 2015, with Lautner in the same kind of movie with the same kind of problems. “Tracers” once again gives Lautner opportunities to show off his physicality and athleticism, but the movie asks nothing else of him—and barely anything of itself.
Directed by Daniel Benmayor and written, ridiculously, by four credited screenwriters (Leslie Bohem, Matt Johnson, Kevin Lund, and T.J. Scott), “Tracers” focuses on broke bike messenger Cam (Lautner, of “The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 2”), who is struggling to repay a $15,000 loan from the Chinese mafia in his New York City neighborhood. He can’t get enough jobs to pay the loan down as quickly as the enforcers are demanding, and although they haven’t gotten physical with him yet, they surely will. He doesn’t have any friends; all the other bike messengers seem to ignore him. And he can barely afford the rent he pays to a single mother and her skateboarding son for the pleasure of staying in their garage. Overall, things aren’t looking good.
And they seem to get worse one day when he crashes his bike because of a run-in with a girl, Nikki (Marie Avgeropoulos, of “50/50”), who is mysteriously sprinting away from the police—and even more mysteriously, he receives a new bike the next day, supposedly from his “girlfriend.” Intrigued by her impressive parkour skills, Cam tracks her down, chasing her through Central Park and city streets until he catches up with her and her fellow parkour enthusiasts, including older brother Dylan (Rafi Gavron, of “Snitch”). They seem to effortlessly fly up fire escapes, through parking garages, along rows of cars, over chainlink fences, through the wreckage of a boat, and while watching them, Cam decides he wants to live that life, too.
It helps, then, that Cam is a natural at it, and his relentless practicing makes him better at a faster pace than anyone could have imagined. And it also helps that Nikki, Dylan, and their friends are described as a “family” by their older partner, Miller (Adam Rayner), who also tells Cam the truth: they don’t just practice parkour, but they also use it to commit crimes for the highest bidder. They make evidence disappear. They steal documents or jewels or cash or technology or chemicals. They’ll do practically anything with their “speed and silence” through parkour, and if Cam wants to join the team, he’s in.
With that loan aggressively lingering over his head and a growing attraction to Nikki, Cam signs on to the crew … and almost immediately, things start going badly. Nikki and Miller have something going on. The rest of the group is threatened by Cam’s skills. There is a lot on the line—almost too much—and Cam is put in a position that may not end well for anyone.
Aesthetically, it feels like director Benmayor wanted to do something along the lines of “Premium Rush,” the solid-if-underrated action flick about bike messengers from 2012; that film had great chase sequences, high energy, and a silly-but-straightforward plot. It’s clear that “Tracers” also wants to be that enthralling and exciting (the movie is practically 75 percent chase scenes, all with 100 percent parkour throughout), but there are only so many times you can watch people scale a brick wall while an irritatingly loud dubstep track blasts in the background without getting bored. The reality is that parkour isn’t new anymore—it’s such an accepted facet of mainstream action films now that even the established Bond and “Mission: Impossible” franchises have used it in the past few years—and so the tricks used here, while attention-grabbing at first, lose their luster quickly. Oh look, another unnecessary spinning kick and flourishing leap while eluding the police! We get it.
The film isn’t aided by its characterizations or its performances, both of which are wholly forgettable; Lautner can’t emote one bit, and although he’s tasked with being anxious and stressed and lovestruck and furious and threatened, he’s basically just one mode the whole time. Everyone else is even less impactful, and the script doesn’t help matters when its funniest line is “What, did I say it wrong?” when Cam says “parkour” for the first time.
By the time the one final job rolls around, “Tracers” has already wasted 80 or so minutes of your time, and then it wastes another 15 more. How many more terrible action movies can Lautner make? With one more, after “Abduction” and “Tracers,” he’ll officially have a trend—and not one he should be proud of.
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