D: Daniel Benmayor / 94m
Cast: Taylor Lautner, Marie Avgeropoulos, Adam Raynor, Rafi Gavron, Luciano Acuna Jr, Josh Yadon, Johnny Wu, Sam Medina, Amirah Vann, Christian Steel, Wai Ching Ho
Cam (Lautner) has a problem: he owes the Chinese Mafia $15,000 and his work as a bike messenger isn’t earning him enough to meet the repayment schedule that’s been arranged. When his bike is totalled in a collision caused by a female freerunner, Cam doesn’t know what he’s going to do next. But the next day he finds that his “girlfriend” has dropped off a new bike where he works. Cam goes in search of his mystery benefactor and eventually catches up with her. Her name is Nikki (Avgeropoulos) and she’s part of a small group of tracers that includes her brother, Dylan (Gavron), and friends Tate (Acuna Jr) and Jax (Yadon). Cam is attracted to Marie and at first it’s his main reason for hanging out with them, but when his new bike is stolen and he has to move out of the garage space he’s renting because the Chinese Mafia threaten his landlord (Vann) and her young son (Steel), he tells the group that he wants “in” on whatever it is that they do (and which is probably both illegal and lucrative).
Cam eventually meets Miller (Raynor) who tells him that he runs the group as a kind of specialist team, hired to carry out dangerous or high risk “jobs” that are illegal, most of which involve stealing. Cam goes on a job with them that turns out to be a test, which he passes. But the money he’s earning isn’t enough to pay off his debt. At the same time, he and Nikki become closer, even though she is with Miller. They begin seeing each other, though Miller becomes suspicious. When Miller announces a big job, one that will earn each of them around $20,000, Cam sees his way out. But when he’s picked up for the job and Nikki isn’t taking part, he begins to wonder if Miller is setting him up. But the job, a robbery at the “bank” of a notorious Korean gang, goes wrong and in their attempt at escaping, Jax is killed and Cam ends up being arrested. But there is a surprise in store for him, but one that he might be able to turn to his advantage – if he stays alive long enough.
Since the first and subsequent Twilight movies, the career of Taylor Lautner hasn’t exactly set cinema screens alight. From being lost in the giant ensemble that was Valentine’s Day (2010), to the entirely risible Abduction (2011) and an uncredited turn in Grown Ups 2 (2013), his career seems to have stalled. On the strength of Tracers it doesn’t look as if it’s going to get any better any time soon.
It’s not that the movie is all bad or that Lautner is – in fact, he’s just about bearable – but it is the kind of movie that the word “disposable” was made for, occasionally exciting but generally quite benign and underwhelming. No one is required to do too much in the way of emoting, and the script seems determined to include as much in the way of bland dialogue as it can, while each character wanders from scene to scene with the vacant approach of someone under hypnosis. Even when Cam and Nikki end up in bed together it’s all Lautner and Avgeropoulos can do to make it seem like they’re attracted to each other.
But despite all this, where the movie does score points is with its parkour scenes, which stay just this side of inventive, and manage to install some much needed energy and thrills into proceedings. It’s also good to see that Lautner has put in his time learning how to participate without looking like an amateur, and if he’s not given anything too dangerous to jump across/down from/over, then it shouldn’t be a surprise. That said, it’s fun to watch his training montage and work out which fails were choreographed and which were originally meant to be outtakes.
With the camera following Cam and the gang from time to time on their parkour routines, the excitement of the chase is never far away, and there’s one sequence which looks set to emulate the foot chase from Point Break (1991), but unfortunately it’s over almost as soon as it’s started – did no one think to strap a helmet-cam on someone at any point? And the twin action sequences toward the end of the movie raise the raise things out of the doldrums of the previous hour. But without these elements – shot with an energetic, well-paced attention to low angles by DoP Nelson Cragg – Tracers is a largely humdrum affair that screams banality from every (other) angle.
Outside of Lautner, the cast are largely forgettable, with the exception of Wu who brings both humour and menace to his role as Tong enforcer Jerry, and Vann who portrays Cam’s landlady with a quiet grace that makes her the most credible character in the whole movie. Benmayor lacks the experience needed to meld the characters and the action together into a unified whole, and directs much of the movie as if from a distance, almost as if he were leaving the cast to direct themselves (and if so, that wasn’t such a good idea either). With his attention wandering – sometimes within a scene – it makes for an uneven, debilitating viewing experience that you won’t want to repeat.
Rating: 4/10 – with parts of the movie feeling padded out and slowed down unnecessarily, Tracers only picks up when its cast fling themselves over and around various rooftops; bordering on vacuous, it’s a movie that could be viewed as the second nail in the coffin of Lautner’s career.