Baby Driver (2017)

Written & Directed by Edgar Wright

Edgar Wright’s Baby Driver is a shot in the arm. These days, summer movies consist of regurgitated remakes, kids movies, and superhero movies full of doom and gloom. Whatever happened to the original action movies? Whatever happened to the type of film that made you like it, instead of the franchise or the movie studio. Where have all the adrenaline filled, well executed action set piece character driven action movies gone? Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a superhero movie hater, I do enjoy them, but is that all we need to survive the summer? Don’t we need a well balanced meal full of everything on the menu. How long before we find out Soylent Green is people!? How long before we tire of the same thing over and over again!? Let’s diversify our movie diets!

Baby Driver is kind of a weird title, but so is Baby for someone’s name. After becoming indebted to heist kingpin Doc (Kevin Spacey), young Baby (Ansel Elgort) is forced to pay his way back as Doc’s go-to getaway driver. Teaming with a variety of criminals (Jamie Foxx, Jon Hamm, Flea, Eiza Gonzalez, Jon Bernthal), Baby plugs in his headphones, pumps the tunes, and eludes the cops. Hoping to escape his criminal life once he’s paid up, Baby begins to court Debora (Lily James), the personable waitress at his favorite local diner. When Doc pulls him back in for one last heist, Baby does everything he can to getaway, but some heists are just doomed from the very start.

Wright’s past work has impressed almost universally. The Cornetto Trilogy (Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz & The World’s End – watch them again, there’s always a cornetto ice cream) has a sense of humor and pace to them that screams energy off the screen. Baby Driver  is no different. After the first 15 minutes of the film I found myself asking why there aren’t more heist movies, why there aren’t more car chases, why there aren’t more movies out there that just exude “cool”. Then I realized that it’s not as easy as Edgar Wright makes it look. Movies have tried, plenty of movies have tried. But what Wright has achieved with his camera and iPod (when the main character’s unique feature is always listening to music, you can expect a pretty great soundtrack), is nothing short of thrilling to experience. For the better part of the film, he is able to marry the sonic movements of Baby’s soundtrack to the heists and subsequent chases, creating a palpable energy throughout the better part of the film.

Unfortunately, the film does not sustain its energy from start to finish. That would have been even more impressive a feat. It slows down for a breather closer to the middle, when less action and more character building occurs. But even there, the film has some holes in it which may make some hesitate to call it great. It’s very hard to forge a perfect heist movie without at least a few stretches of reality or the imagination. This isn’t an excuse for the movie, it’s still a criticism, but it doesn’t detract much from a otherwise stellar film. Ansel Elgort, not an actor I would associate with oozing cool, pulls off Baby extremely well. The rest of the supporting cast is awesome as well, in particular Hamm, Spacey and Foxx, whose pure villainy plays nicely against Baby’s likable personality. Lily James is a nice counterpoint of purity alongside the criminal activity too.

The story creates just enough character, just enough stakes, and just enough conflict to allow the rest of the film to happen around it. The center of the film may be thin, but the more superfluous details make Baby Driver a hell of a good time. The awesome soundtrack, the awesome chase scenes, even the awesome dialogue between characters. I feel confident placing this movie among my top of 2017 so far, even if it may slide as the year goes on. But damnit if this movie didn’t remind me of just how cool the movies can be.

*** 1/2 – Great

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