Edgar Wright’s ‘Baby Driver’ is highly entertaining as it starts off dancing with car chases to The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion and then keeps jigging around through it’s near-constant soundtrack. Indeed it’s like one big music video, the conceit being that our young-faced super-driver “Baby” (Ansel Elgort) uses iPod music to battle ever-present tinnitus and that gives the film a continuous soundtrack. It’s a good soundtrack and Wright edits the whole film fast and furiously to the tempo of the songs. Consistently amusing, frequently exceptionally directed and a movie-movie concerned mostly with genre all makes this highly appealing. And of course, the true origin for this goes back to Wright’s video for Mint Royale’s ‘Blue Song’ (below).
The slender narrative is typical for such a concept. People are name-checking Refn’s ‘Drive’ obviously, but this goes back to ‘The Driver’ and ‘Thief’, to a moment when music and motion became firmly glued together and the thrill of car chases became the whole theme. All these films are movie-movies where people are archetypes and cool is the aim. For example, Baby doesn’t talk much, communicating with his deaf foster father through sign language and dancing around the apartment. It’s parodic with Wright’s background in comedy making sure things stay light, but it’s also too much of a homage to truly run loose from its type.
‘Baby Driver’ throws passing glances at reality like it glances at the corpses of innocent bystanders but never lingers or gets up close. It is a getaway driver fantasy as musical and that’s all forgivable but for the weakness of the romance where it becomes apparent that the two female characters of note – Lily James and Eiza González – don’t really exist outside of male fantasy. This is a shame because all the charm Elgort and James generate can’t avoid the fact that she increasingly disappears into being Baby’s fantasy girl. Not quite one for ladies then, except if you want to be the pretty face for a boy racer’s imaged music video life. Then there’s Jon Hamm and Kevin Spacey who do their thing but it’s Jamie Foxx that stands out as “Bats”, the harbinger of true danger and death. He’s just one one-note as anyone else, but he is intriguing in his display of smarts along with a kill-kill-kill! mentality.
The chases by foot benefit from Elgort’s agility and dancing skills and the chases make good use of the multi-levels and slopes offered by Atlanta, Georgia. It’s strongest behind the wheel with perhaps a little reliance upon Wright’s considerable editing skills to achieve effect instead of just letting cars do their thing without cuts. When ‘Baby Driver’ skids into its final act it gets increasingly overblown, meaning the smaller pleasures of Baby simply going to get coffee with the whole world around him seemingly turning into a musical are long lost by the time a big denouement is called for. The acute highs and lows makes this pretty messy and perhaps with stronger writing less geared just to homage it would have been more remarkable. As it is, it’s fine entertainment.