Parkour has been an accepted component of the modern lexicon for a number of years now, having even been embraced by advertising campaigns for the BBC. The "art" of free-running over rooftops and urban terrain was first popularised in France, but has since become a worldwide phenomenon. So, in some regards it is surprising it has taken until recently for a film to be made incorporating the sport into its plot. The fact that it immediately guarantees a stunt-filled film without necessarily having a huge budget and the fact it (surely) saves money on stuntmen would be a boon to any producer looking for something new and inexpensive to push to a wider audience. However, watching Freerunner, it quickly becomes apparent that there are a number of reasons this concept has been left well enough alone.
Freerunner follows the adventures of a group of "freerunners" who compete in daily races in the fictional city of Metro, while people are able to bet on the outcome of the races, all of which is run by their head honcho, Reece. However, when shady businessman Mr Frank makes Reece an offer he can’t refuse, and the freerunners find themselves in a race against each other to see who will survive the exploding neck collars placed on their necks as a shady ring of billionaires bet on who will die first.
If the plot of Freerunner sounds ever so slightly familiar, that’s because it is eerily reminiscent of The Running Man. This is essentially a bargain-basement remake with the added twist of the use of Parkour. However, it misses the point entirely as it is devoid of the overriding social commentary that The Running Man was able to present, and it possesses little of its charm. The action sequences are all filmed with handheld cameras and mounted steadicams to try and give a birds-eye view of the action, but this loses its novelty value very quickly. The logic of Parkour also quickly loses its appeal when you consider its use as a mode of transport when the runners are racing for their lives, simply because the runners would be better served by just running, rather than doing unnecessary somersaults/stunts. It creates a disconnect with the logic of the race itself, and made it difficult to maintain suspension of disbelief.
Freerunner feels low rent from the outset, and the casting doesn’t help. I appreciate that the stunts performed by the Parkour performers are spectacular, but unfortunately their acting ability and Parkour skills do not seem to go hand in hand. Faris is passable as Ryan, but only just, while Doyle is incredibly wooden throughout as irritatingly named rival, Fitch. Even the non-Parkour actors are woeful, with Da Costa as love interest Chelsea a particularly harsh offender in the thespian stakes, while Hassan plays the same typecast character he plays in every film he’s in. Dyer is surprisingly fun, hamming it up in one of the cheesiest turns of the year as Mr Frank, in a performance so campy that it almost feels like he’s lampooning himself. Although, when Danny Dyer is the best thing about a film, it doesn’t bode awfully well.
Freerunner really does struggle with style over substance, putting flashy stunt sequences from the performers well ahead of acting, plot, originality, and believable dialogue. Unfortunately, the only time the film doesn’t struggle with one over the other is when it struggles equally with both, using some frankly dodgy CGI and effects, all of which make Freerunner a prime example of bargain-basement petrol station special-offer fodder, despite the filmmakers' best intentions.