Baby Driver is hell on wheels. And I do mean hell.
Do not follow this vehicle; it’s prone to making sudden stops and turns even if it does always signal beforehand (or wink as we say in the UK, appropriately so).
If you’re willing to suspend disbelief for two earsplitting hours then you might just enjoy writer/director Edgar Wright’s cacophony of wall-to-wall car chases writ large with floor-to-ceiling selections of hip party tunes, since that’s pretty much all Baby Driver is—screamin’ wheels, burnin’ rubber, and stock car smash-ups orchestrated to the likes of Queen, The Damned, and The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion. But I wasn’t and I didn’t, because I know Wright to be bigger than this.
The source of all the tuneage? Our titular Baby—that’s B.A.B.Y. Baby of course—played with adolescent disinterest by Allegiant’s Ansel Elgort, a pair of earbuds forever planted in his golden auricles. Miraculously, he can still parrot back everything he’s supposed to be listening to, like every step of each One Last Heist. He also wears retro sunglasses so he must be cool, right? Baby’s crime boss, Doc, to whom the young pup is interminably indebted, is played by a meanypants Kevin Spacey, who talks in a clipped, arty way to remind us that, while he might be a bad guy, at least he’s a cool bad guy. Apparently Jamie Foxx, who plays an off-kilter crew member called Bats, stayed on set to listen even when he wasn’t required for the scene, so clearly Spacey’s affect wasn’t wasted on everyone.
Doc reminds Baby that he never uses the same crew twice… and then uses the same crew twice (Foxx, Jon Hamm, and telenovela star Eiza Gonzalez likely wanted more action than just that opening scene). Baby, while youthful, is the best goddamn wheelman in the business, yet the Atlanta police force has little trouble in tailgating his various rides all over The Big Peach and back again. And in all of those car chases there’s only one scene that’s anything approaching original—kinda cool, almost—but it requires the viewer to suspend disbelief even further. Illogic breeds contempt here… unless you’ve already opted to Just Go With It.
Baby has a hearing-impaired African-American foster father played by CJ Jones—how cool is that!? There is sort of a sweet love thing going on between Baby and Lily James’ Debora (cue T-Rex’s “Debora,” Beck’s “Debra”—you get the idea), who waitresses in the same sad-sack diner in which Baby’s (dead-by-auto) mom used to work, but they have nothing interesting to say to one another. Not one thing.
Lazy, noisy, and calculated to appeal to fanboys who wonder how their engines feel (ba ba ba ba), Baby Driver is 100% devoid of the wit, charm, and creativity abundant in Wright’s earlier films—the wonderfully entertaining Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, for example, both of which he co-wrote with Spaced’s Simon Pegg. (Even the more recent Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, which he didn’t, had its moments.) Perhaps Wright should consider re-employing Pegg for his next project, since the writing in Baby Driver stalls out in the driveway.
Maybe Wright was listening to Simon & Garfunkel’s “Baby Driver” one day and, in the absence of anything more substantive, decided to turn it into a fast and furious summer movie hit! With classic tunes! Fast and furious, sure. And if you groove to the likes of the “Harlem Shuffle,” “Tequila,” and Martha & The Vandellas doing their signature “Nowhere to Run,” then why not? But by trying too hard to be cool, Wright comes across as self-satisfyingly smug. And that’s not cool at all.
I’d have gone to see Baby Driver even if it didn’t have a 98% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, because I like Wright’s work. But I would have been a lot less disappointed.
(c) 2017 David N. Butterworth