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Baby Driver

Sony Pictures // R // June 28, 2017
List Price: Unknown [Buy now and save at Fandango]

Review by Tyler Foster | posted June 30, 2017 | E-mail the Author
In writer/director Edgar Wright's new film Baby Driver, we're introduced to Baby (Ansel Elgort), a young man afflicted with tinnitus, who drowns out the ring with music, and who makes a living driving getaway cars for bank robbers. In some senses, we know why Baby drives -- because he's supernaturally good at it, because he owes money to a gangster, Doc (Kevin Spacey), and eventually because he wants to try and use that skill to save Deborah (Lily James) from the criminals he's surrounded himself with -- but the movie's major problem is we never really know what drives Baby.

The movie does fill in some of Baby's backstory: as a child, Baby's parents fought, and his iPod, a treasured Christmas gift from both of them, helped drown out their constant fighting. He was listening to the iPod when a fatal car wreck left both of them dead and Baby with his permanent "hum in the drum." Now, Baby uses the music to focus on moving his getaway vehicles from point A to point B instead of the trail of violence his passengers are leaving behind him. Yet, none of that taps into what Baby actually gets out of driving that he doesn't already get out of listening to and making music (using samples of everything, including his gangster co-workers insulting him). You'd think being in a traumatic car accident would push Baby away from motor vehicle mayhem, but Doc mentions that Baby was already a miraculous wheelman when they first met, and the years between the childhood accident and his debt to Doc remain a mystery. It doesn't help that Elgort brings very little to the role, delivering a bland performance lacking in charisma or presence.

It's an odd flaw for Wright, whose technique often exhibits the precision of a Swiss watch. Few directors are as skilled as he is at synthesizing action, music, sound effects, and editing into comic and stylistic energy -- the best moments in his movies aren't just a one-liner or a visual gag, but a cinematic punctuation mark. Baby Driver attempts these moments, but for the first time, they lack the comic snap of spontaneity. An early sequence where Baby strolls along the street to a coffee shop, entranced in the music, should be delightful, but it feels so rehearsed that it engages the brain -- a conscious observation of wit -- rather than the soul. A scene in a laundromat filled with colorful laundry is a bit more effective, but the lack of sparks between Elgort and James (stranded both by her limited role and uninteresting co-star) limits the charm.

Then there are the car chases. Perhaps this is just a case of misplaced expectations (especially if you've seen Wright's music video for Mint Royale's "Blue Song", or recall his use of Queen in Shaun of the Dead), but the mixture of Baby's music and the action isn't particularly coordinated (chordinated?). There's nothing wrong with setting car chases to pop music, but it's not unique. Even the carefully choreographed street dance suggests that Baby allows the music to transform the world around him, and it'd be nice to see that flair and style reflected in the stunt work as well. Wright films the chases with clarity and rhythm, and comes up with some clever beats, but his body of work sets a high bar that Baby Driver can't get up to, much less clear. By the end of the film, there isn't even music, with a messy finale in a parking garage bringing the action to an underwhelming conclusion.

None of this is to say that Baby Driver isn't often fun to watch. Wright's screenplay has some great, cracking dialogue, and the movie features a mostly spectacular cast, including Jamie Foxx in intimidating gangster mode, CJ Jones as Baby's deaf roommate / voice of reason (who brings out the best in Elgort), and Kevin Spacey giving an enjoyably lively performance, relishing in each turn of phrase and double-entendre he delivers. Doc's relationship with Baby is uniquely fascinating (even if not entirely consistent), and Wright is smart enough to avoid letting his characters off the hook from the choices they make. It's just a shame: the film feels like it should be the jam of the summer, but instead, it settles for being intermittently catchy.

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