Tramps (2016) ☆☆☆(3/4): Looking for a briefcase

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As a little film about two young strangers who happen to get involved with each other, “Tramps” seems pretty conventional at first, but then it turns out to be a little more distinctive than expected. Although I must confess that I was distracted by a number of flaws and contrivances during my viewing, but I later come to like the movie more as reflecting more on its good elements including its commendable lead performances, and it surely has its own spirit and charm to distinguish itself from other similar films.

Its two lead characters are Danny (Callum Turner) and Ellie (Grace Van Patten), and the early scenes of the movie show their respective situations which lead them to their eventual encounter. Danny is a Polish American lad living with his mom and older brother Darren (Michal Vondel) in Queens, and the first scene of the movie shows him handling an illegal horse racing betting operation in his family apartment. As reflected by a brief subsequent scene, he has aspired to be a chef, but he currently works at a local fast food shop as a part-time employee, and he only gets small satisfaction from cooking a nice meal for him and his family.

When the meal is ready and he and his mother are waiting for Darren to come back, there comes a call from Darren, who is going to be incarcerated in a prison for one day due to some trouble. When he asks Danny to do a simple thing on the next day and then receive the money for that job instead of him, Danny is reluctant because his brother does not explain much except giving him a brief instruction, but he eventually agrees to do it because of his mother.

Meanwhile, we see Ellie arriving in New York City, and we get to know a bit about her desperate situation when she meets a guy named Scott (Mike Birbiglia). She needs the money for paying the debt to a guy with whom she lived in Pittsburgh, and Scott has a job to be offered to her. All she will have to do on the next day is taking a guy to a subway station by a car, and she will get paid handsomely for that once the delivery of a certain briefcase is completed.

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Of course, that guy in question is Danny, and we soon get the Meet Cute scene as he and Ellie come across each other in front of a car to be driven by her. After they wait in the car for a while, somebody puts the briefcase in question inside the car, and everything seems all right as she takes him to the station and then he looks for someone who is going to receive the briefcase from him at the station.

However, as you have already expected, an unexpected trouble happens. By coincidence, Danny puts the briefcase next to a wrong recipient and then takes the handbag of that wrong recipient as instructed. When he belatedly realizes his mistake, he is already on a train leaving the station. As soon as he gets off the train on the next station, he hurriedly goes back to the station, but that wrong recipient is already gone with the briefcase.

While understandably being panicked, Danny comes across Ellie near the station, and Ellie knows she must do anything for getting her money. Fortunately for them, that handbag in question contains the home address of that wrong recipient, so Ellie asks Scott to give them some time for taking care of their trouble as soon as possible, and she and Danny soon leave for a suburban area outside NYC, where that wrong recipient supposedly resides.

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Not so surprisingly, Ellie and Danny find themselves spending a lot more time than expected as trying to look for the briefcase, and the movie leisurely goes along with them while occasionally generating some tension as required. They do not get along well with each other as being frustrated about their problematic situation, but they gradually become more opened to each other as they stroll around a suburban area which is alien to them in many aspects, and the movie allows them a little relaxed moment at an amusement park. While there is still a certain degree of distance between them, they come to like each other nonetheless, and that is followed by a nice moment unfolded inside a small shack near the swimming pool of a big suburban house.

The second half of the movie is predictable to the core, but director/co-writer Adam Leon, who previously drew considerable attention through his first feature film “Gimme the Loot” (2012), keeps the movie floating in its vivid realistic atmosphere. While the lively urban mood of Queens and Brooklyn makes a good contrast with the quiet rural mood of a suburban area outside NYC, the soundtrack is decorated with various types of songs, and composer Nicholas Britell, who was recently Oscar-nominated for his haunting work in “Moonlight” (2016), provides a low-key counterpoint to that diverse musical combination.

And it certainly helps that Callum Turner and Grace Van Patten ably carry the film together via their good chemistry. While Turner is engaging in his amiable performance, Van Patten is equally solid in her charming performance, and the movie works best whenever it focuses on what is being exchanged between them on the screen.

“Tramps” is not without flaws. Most of supporting characters in the film are more or less than storytelling tools, and the movie loses some of its energy whenever it moves its focus from Danny and Ellie to other characters. Although its running time is rather short (82 minutes), the movie often feels a little too loose, and the finale could be tighter in my inconsequential opinion. It is not entirely satisfying on the whole, but it is likable enough to compensate for that, so I recommend it with some reservation.

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