The writer-director Adam Leon made an impressive debut in 2012 with “Gimme the Loot,” an antic New York comedy about graffiti artists out for revenge. Leon delivers on that promise with “Tramps,” a similarly spirited, lively urban bagatelle, this time about a young couple who go unexpectedly on the lam when a shady deal goes wrong.
As “Tramps” opens, an aspiring young chef named Danny (Callum Turner) is conscientiously cooking dinner for his mother, who runs a bootleg betting parlor out of her cramped Astoria apartment. When his brother calls from jail in Atlantic City, asking Danny to pick up a briefcase and make a trade for him, the younger, cleaner-living sibling is reluctant. But he’s roped in, resulting in a moment of mistaken identity, a frantic attempt to set things to rights and an escalating series of events that ultimately sends Danny to the New York suburbs with his erstwhile wheel-woman, a tough cookie named Ellie, played by Grace Van Patten.
“What’s in the briefcase?” more than one character asks in “Tramps.” But that couldn’t be more beside the point in a film that calls on Woody Allen, Jean-Luc Godard and George Cukor for its inspiration, balancing crafty toughness with a bracing, knockabout likability. Leon, here working from a story he conceived with Jamund Washington, evinces a canny gift for staging, framing and pacing; he gets things moving quickly and keeps them afloat with a lightness that’s much more difficult to achieve than it looks.
Carefully doling out information about the criminal enterprise behind Danny and Ellie’s misbegotten caper while keeping them constantly on the move through New York’s scruffy streets and, later, through the prosperous, leafy other-world of Westchester, Leon maintains a buoyant energy that’s given even more bounce by the film’s lively score and soundtrack, which includes hip-hop, R&B and bluegrass. He engages in some ambitious camerawork — there’s a crane shot early in the film that lends “Tramps” a “French Connection” sense of muscularity and verve — but he’s not afraid to hold the camera still, simply observing his two protagonists as they get to know one another and (you think?) fall in love.
Because “Tramps” is essentially a romantic screwball comedy a la “It Happened One Night,” casting the right actors is essential: He’s found just the right actors for a movie that depends 100 percent on the winsome appeal of its romantic leads. (It doesn’t hurt that one of the supporting players is the comedian Mike Birbiglia, in an amusing example of casting against type.) Turner especially is a revelation; with his hangdog sweetness, he could play Adam Driver’s younger brother. His ability to project naivete and street smarts helps infuse “Tramps” with an air of innocence that’s both endearing and refreshing. Just because something happened one night doesn’t mean it can’t happen again, with just as much winning, infectious charm.
“Tramps” (82 minutes, unrated) is available on Netflix. It contains profanity, smoking and adult situations.