Do you love bicycles? Do you love a little bit of risk? I knew more than a few adrenaline junkies when I was much younger, but none of them were leaping off of buildings and tumbling off of cars or playing tag with cars in the mean streets of New York. In other words, parkour was before my time and I never knew bicycle messengers. (California might be a harder territory for bicycle messengers and parkour runs with all of the long stretches of space between cities.) “Tracers” is about how one desperate and deeply in debt bicycle messenger is lured into the parkour world and gives a Twilight Saga alum a chance to be the kind of hero who doesn’t have superpowers.
The movie starts with a meet-cute. Our protagonist guy, Cam (Taylor Lautner who played Jacob Black in the Twilight Saga and Dale in the TV series “Cuckoo”) is dodging city traffic on his bike to make a delivery while four guys are jumping over rooftops. The cyclist and the four-hooded roof hoppers are on a collision course. One of the hooded dudes ends up being a dudette. She bounces off of a parked car roof (car owners probably hate these people now) and lands in front of a yellow cab. In order to avoid killing her, the cab slides sideways and our boy Cam collides with the car. Up and over, he gets up close and personal with the hooded girl. Is there any way to more literally run into someone?
While the girl says she’s sorry about the bike, apparently this collision doesn’t count as workers comp for Cam and the cabbie doesn’t want to report the accident to his insurance.
“I need more runs,” Cam tells his boss. That won’t be easy without a bicycle.
Cam owes money and this is a multi-racial shake-down. Jerry (Johnny M. Wu) and his enforcer (Sam Medina) are getting nervous because this is the second time Cam is late with the $1500 he owes them on the first of each month, every month. He’s just crashed his bike and has no job.
Discouraged, Cam trashes his bike (Never hear of repair or recycle or scavenge?). Riding the bus home, he doesn’t have many prospects, but we’re wondering just what he needed that big hunk of change for. At home, Cam worries about paying rent and fixing up a car, a Pontiac GTO from between 1964-1972.
Cam sleeps in a garage that houses his broken down car. This is one of those super low-budget probably not quite legal rental situations. He’s renting this “room” from Angie (Amirah Vann), a single black mother with a skateboarding young boy (with bright yellow helmet), named Joey (Christian Steel).
Sleeping in the car instead of his cot, he’s awakened the next day to his cellphone ringing. He has a new bike that “his girlfriend” dropped off with a note “ride safe.” Going into work, he then tracks her down and asks her about parkour because she tells him a bike is “a ball and chain.” What guy can back down from a challenge from a lovely woman? Locking his new bike up, he follows her challenge.
Cam learns if you want to vault the car, you have to look where the car isn’t. He returns for his brand-new bike to find it stolen. He’s again with no bike (and the movie leaves cycling behind). To pay his rent of $550, he sells his tools. And to deliver packages, he begins learning parkour. This is definitely a “do-not-try-at-home” type of movie.
Eventually, he comes to the attention of the gang of four or five. They invite him to their playground and he’s dared to keep up. The girl’s name is Nikki (Marie Avgeropoulos) and she has a brother, Dylan (Rafi Gavron). There’s also Jax (Josh Yadon) and Tate (Luciano Acuna Jr.).
Everyone on board seems to have a record, including Cam who was in juvy for boosting cars. The alpha dog of the gang, Miller know almost too much about Cam, but also not enough. Miller has an uncomfortable relationship with Nikki and Dylan which is not clear at first. We do learn now how this movie gets its name. Parkour is also called freelining and tracing.
According to Miller, they are a team that do work as couriers of sorts. “Want evidence to disappear? Want obstacles to disappear? We do our research, plan as a team, everybody knows there job.” And just what do they take? “Documents, chemicals, technology, anything thing. We don’t take sides.”
Miller has two rules: “If you get in trouble, I’m your first call.” and two, “Stay out of Chinatown, even if you’re off the job.”
We already know that Cam is in big trouble in New York Chinatown which he should but does not reveal to Miller. As it turns out Jerry and Hu work for Chen (Wai Ching Ho). While Cam owes money to Jerry, Jerry owes money to Chen. Just what was all that money for? Cam’s back story is eventually revealed. Let that be a surprise. Let’s just say it has nothing to do with drugs or gambling. He’s a good kid caught in desperate circumstances. Jerry puts the pressure on Cam by threatening Angie and her kid Joey. Jerry also takes Cam’s sweet ride and gives it a coat of paint.
Parkour was developed in France in the late 1980s according to Wikipedia. In the next two decades it grew in popularity. The name comes from French naval officer George Hébert’s proposed classic obstacle course, “parcours du combattant” that he taught during World War I and II. David Belle changed the name to parkour. A person who engages in parkour is called a traceur and the title uses the more American spelling: Tracer. Belle and his original group used the name traceur.
This isn’t the first film to feature parkour. The 2006 “Casino Royale,” the 2007 “The Bourne Ultimatum” and the 2010 “Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time” all have segments of parkour.
“Tracers” focuses more on parkour as a lifestyle choice and a method for a heist movie. The dialogue in this written by committee (Leslie Bohem, Matt Johnson, Kevin Lund and T.J. Scott) isn’t great, but Daniel Benmayor paces the action sequences well and the parkour sequences are believable, both scary and yet you think might be do-able after you’ve watched enough of “American Gladiator.” The cycling sequences are also worth watching, reminding me of a time when cycling was my form of transportation although I never dodged cars like these guys. CSI, Castle and Law & Order fans might wonder just why there is so little concern for fingerprints but that might be a minor quibble, especially for Twilight Saga fans.