Adam Leon's 2013 film Gimme the Loot was of special importance for me, and as it turned out quite a few people. The low-key New York City comedy followed a day in the life of two rambunctious graffiti artists as they explored the city, talked, had random misadventures of a criminal and romantic nature, and ultimately "tagged" a famous baseball landmark. Leon is cementing himself as a connoisseur of the rambling, shaggy "It Happened One Night' style of rom-com, and with his follow-up, Tramps, he puts another stamp on his directorial identity.
Is Tramps an actual improvement, though? Leon gets to the "action" quickly then pulls back on the throttle, leaving it up to his stars to carry the weight. Callum Turner (Green Room) plays Danny, an aspiring chef living in a crowded Astoria apartment with his elderly mom, who happens to be an illegal bookie, and his older brother. When his bro calls from prison demanding Danny complete a shady job exchanging a mysterious briefcase ("What's in the briefcase?" you'll hear quite a bit, although it doesn't matter.) with a stranger, he refuses only to be guilted into it by his mom. Of course, things don't go as planned, and Danny is left to try and figure a way out of a sticky situation alongside his getaway driver, Ellie, played by Grace Van Patten.
Ellie is a lot like Tashiana Washington's character in Gimme the Loot. She's tough, street smart, and doesn't take a lot of crap, especially from her male companion, who is sweet and occasionally a bit of a dufus. He doesn't quite understand the crap storm he's stumbled into while she's fully aware. They make for an enjoyable light duo, with any romantic tension set on a very slow boil. It's there, of course, but Leon hit us over the head with it. Ellie's looking to get the money from this score and get away from a tough life. Comedian Mike Birbiglia, one of the least threatening people in the world, plays one of the guys who put this scheme together, and he suggests an ugly past for Ellie that explains her hard exterior. Goo thing Danny is there to help break though some of that armor with his loyalty and disarming cluelessness.
"Disarming" may be the best word to describe Tramps in a nutshell. It lacks the cultural specificity that made Gimme the Loot speak to so many people, and neither Turner or Van Patten has the outward energy of the prior movie's leads. And yet we're drawn to their meandering journey anyway, which takes them from the gritty streets to the suburbs of Westchester which is might as well be another world. At least it serves as a welcome break from the subway stations, alleys, and underpasses that make for a harmless, barely existent identity. Better is Leon's choice of musical score which includes unexpectedly heavy doses of bluegrass, with guitar riffs that give the film a fun "race for your life" quality.
Individually they aren't especially intriguing but as a tandem Turner and Van Patten are infectious. He's a chatterbox prone to big gestures in hopes of gaining her approval, and she's a quiet observer, which is a nice way of saying she's a little judgmental. Ironic since she's prone to saddling that label onto him undeservedly. The movie relies completely on them and their chemistry, which turns out to be its greatest benefit. As the film pushes ahead to a totally predictable yet rewarding romantic finale, in a bus terminal no less, Tramps solidifies itself as trifle to be admired but not necessarily remembered.
Rating: 3 out of 5