Directed by Daniel Benmayor. Produced by D. Scott Lumpkin, Marty Bowen, and Wyck Godfrey. Written by Kevin Lund, Leslie Bohem, Matt Johnson, and T.J. Scott. Release date: March 20, 2015.
The last time anyone tried to make Taylor Lautner the lead in an action movie, it turned out so poorly that outside of the contractually obligated Twilight movies and a small role in Grown Ups 2, Lautner didn’t act in any other movies. Now he returns to lead Tracers, a movie in which he teams up with a bunch of parkour enthusiasts. Why is it called “Tracers“? Because the word for “one who does parkour” is “traceur.” There’s a fun fact for you.
Cam (Lautner) is a bike courier in New York City, which might have you instantly flashing back to Premium Rush, if only because that’s about the only movie about a bike messenger that’s been released in the last decade. Seriously, outside of that and Quicksilver, what other bike messenger movies are there? Anyway, Cam’s bike gets trashed when some traceurs cause a car accident, so he decides that they’d be fun people to hang out with. As it turns out, they also pull off incredibly daring heists with their parkour skills, and since Cam conveniently owes a great deal of money to people to whom one should not owe money, everything looks like it’ll work out if he joins their gang.
If it sounds like a relatively generic heist movie, just with more focus on people running, jumping, and climbing than planning, that’s because it basically is. As it turns out, that’s a pretty decent way to go about it, as when Tracers is focused on parkour, then it succeeds. It’s when the film slows down and tries to focus on its characters and plot – none of which are worth exploring in any great detail – that it falls apart.
Here’s the thing about Taylor Lautner: As a physical actor, he’s just fine. He’s got the right look, and he does the majority of his own stunts, which allows for him to work in a role like this, where the greatest focus is on elaborate chase scenes set on the rooftops, streets, and hallways of New York City. When we have to watch him try to make us believe he’s in love with Nikki (Marie Avgeropoulos), another member of the gang, he’s incredibly bad.
Everything apart from the action is a failure, and since that amounts to at least half of its running time, that much of the film doesn’t work and is a chore to sit through.
He’s not helped by the screenplay – inexplicably credited to four individuals – which works overtime to make us feel sympathy for him, doing so in the most heavy-handed way possible. He’s in debt because he needed the money for his ailing mother, he can’t sell his classic sports car because it was his father’s, and all he wants to do is make enough money so he can escape – hopefully after getting the girl. He’s such a Mary Sue that it’s distracting, and Lautner’s not a good enough actor to stop that from being our reaction.
The parkour gang is led by Miller (Adam Rayner), who tells us that the robberies are meticulously planned. The film, then, shows us that their biggest job is completely unplanned and involves Cam simply showing up and putting on a mask, unsure of even the location they’re targeting. It’s done to further the animosity between Cam and Miller – Miller, after all, is Nikki’s current beau – but it just comes across as lazy and unrealistic. Yes, it feels that way even though this is a movie about a bunch of ninja-looking traceurs stealing stuff because of the powers granted to them by the parkour gods.
Surprisingly, there’s no degree of self-awareness to Tracers. The plot is taken at face value, the escapism themes are presented to us seriously, and there isn’t any place for laughter or, really, fun. If the characters or the film gave us some sort of indication that they realize how silly it all is then it might have been better. It’s better for the film to have us laugh with it than at it. In Tracers‘ case, we’re doing the latter.
In fairness, at least the parkour scenes are good, and since about half the movie is made up of those, it isn’t a complete waste of time. Parkour is an inherently thrilling activity, because things look like they can so easily go wrong, and because it takes a great deal of athleticism to pull it off, especially for a sustained period of time. The camerawork doesn’t even have to be great – it’s not stellar here, but it’s serviceable – and it can still be fun. And since Taylor Lautner does a lot of his own stunts – the filmmakers make sure to show his face as often as possible to make sure we know it’s him – the thrills get taken to another level. Sure, everything surrounding the action is bad, and it’s tough to care about the action itself without everything else mattering, but since we don’t get to see a lot of extended parkour in film, it feels fresh and is enough to keep Tracers from being a complete waste of time.
Is Tracers a good movie? No. Everything apart from the action is a failure, and since that amounts to at least half of its running time, that much of the film doesn’t work and is a chore to sit through. The actors aren’t good at carrying the slow moments, the dialogue is laughable, the plot is silly, the characters are shallow, and there isn’t a moment of self-awareness to be found. What does work is whenever the film decides to ignore all of those fundamentals and focus on its action, which consists primarily of people running, climbing, and jumping around New York City. We don’t get a lot of extended parkour sequences in film – let alone a whole movie centered on it – and since Tracers focuses very heavily on parkour, that alone almost makes it worth seeing.
Bottom Line: Filling half a movie with relatively entertaining action scenes does not make up for the other half failing on every level.
Recommendation: If you’re a big Taylor Lautner fan or you love parkour, Tracers will satisfy. If you don’t fit into one of those categories, skip it.[rating=2]