MOVIE REVIEW: Baby Driver
BABY DRIVER-- 4 STARS
Five years ago when I reviewed the Joseph Gordon-Levitt vehicle Premium Rush, I coined a term for an action sub-genre that I like to call “kinetic movies.” They are snappy films that are always on the move in some way, shape, or form, from their cameras to their characters. Kinetic movies are busy and relentless, but not brainless or over-the-top. Time is their number one element and they work with a payoff or deadline in mind. Most importantly, kinetic films are crafty enough to bring the audience into their rapid pace without exhausting their good ideas or gimmicks in the first hour.
The films of Edgar Wright pulse with a signature flair for visual comedy built on wildly imaginative stylings in the areas of music, framing, camera movement, sound effects, and editing. His creative trickery wins for looks, but it also constantly advances the storytelling at hand. For that and so much more, Baby Driver is first-rate example of a kinetic film and joins the top ranks of Wright’s filmography.
The chassis of Baby Driver is the familiar “one more job” predicament smashed and splashed with jolts and sprays of meet-cute romance, catchy music, brass balls, and sheer action. Divergent series star Ansel Elgort is Baby, a shades-wearing self-made getaway driver working for a powerful Atlanta crime czar nicknamed Doc (the Oscar-winning slither of Kevin Spacey). His ungodly skill behind the wheel is fueled by coffee, regret, and the ever-present and obsessively curated playlists of music piped through his earbuds or the car stereo. Baby is working to pay off debt to Doc and has managed to keeps his hands predominantly clean doing this dirty work.
Gravitating to landmarks from a personal tragedy in his past, Baby catches the eye of affection for a fetchy diner waitress named Debora (Cinderella herself Lily James). They dream of hitting the road and putting Atlanta’s woes behind them. Close to being square, Doc twists a threatening and coercive knife to pull Baby back in for a brass ring job of taking down the city post office. The heist pairs Baby with three of Doc’s unsavory prior crew hires, the madcap Bats (a riotous Jamie Foxx) and the dangerous husband-wife team of Buddy and Darling (Jon Hamm and Eiza Gonzalez). Like all “one last job” stories, the s--t most certainly hits the fan.
The delivery and ways Edgar Wright bends tropes are the beauty of this film. He’s playing pinball with genres in his most mature film to date, surpassing the teeny-bopper video game hijinks of Scott Pilgrim vs. The World and the imported man-child shenanigans of the Cornetto trilogy. Throwing back to the sizzle of the pulpy 1970s, you have seen heist films, car chases, sarcastic dialogue, and shootouts before, but not ones steered with this kind of manic energy and arranged with this level of musical riff.
Baby Driver is stoked by a fiery and massive soundtrack of 30+ semi-diegetic songs from across eras, including three new original tracks from Danger Mouse, Sky Ferreira, and Kid Koala. Packed with deep cuts from obscure artists and shot or two from the top-shelf of Barry White and Queen, the infusion of these songs into the film’s action and settings is a layer of foley all its own and pure genius from music editor Bradley Farmer and long-time Wright consultant Kirsten Lane. What looks and feels like an improvised jazz session of hairpin turns, coffee runs, squealing brakes, shouted expletives, and rapid-fire chicanery set to this soundtrack is all dexterously choreographed by Ryan Heffington, the hidden MVP of Baby Driver.
The camera, and coolness for that matter, simply never stop. Matrix trilogy cinematographer Bill Pope juggles long tracking shots with swirling camera movement and the crisp cuts of the editing team of Jonathan Amos and Paul Machliss. On the streets, the work of the stunt team headed by long-time driver/first-time coordinator Robert Nagle dazzles with every gear shift. As the kids would say, every stitch of this film is cool AF. While it carries on a little too long in its climax and epilogue, Baby Driver is perfect preposterous escapism for the summer season. Come and bow at the altar of Edgar Wright.
LESSON #1: YOU CAN NEVER BE TOO GOOD OF A DRIVER-- Mark this writer down as one of those meatheads that watches a movie like Baby Driver, Smokey and the Bandit, Days of Thunder, or and entry of the Fast and Furious series and finds himself quickening the road rage and pushing harder on the accelerator. There’s always room for more skill behind the wheel. Add “Was he slow?” to your list of driving movie catchphrases.
LESSON #2: WEARING SUNGLASSES WILL ALWAYS MAKE YOU COOL-- I don’t care who you are. Sunglasses make you instantly 100% cooler than you were without them. Always have them on hand and go ahead and wear them indoors. F--k decorum.
LESSON #3: FIND A SONG WITH YOUR NAME IN IT-- This is a cute little challenge that blooms from the Baby/Debora romance. An unintentionally personalized song can add a little dash of character and fate to oneself. Head over to Song-Database’s search and LyricFinder now and look up your name.
LESSON #4: THE STOMACH AND SPINE FOR CRIME-- Baby may not be the one pulling triggers, but he has grown to find the numbness and capacity to look the other way, take the money, and become good at what he does. He hides a criminal streak that can be provoked and there’s a good chance we all have one somewhere too, even if it’s not to become a wheelman.