Pedal pushed all the way to the metal, Wright’s perfectly choreographed car heist movie thrums with fun. Dance and diesel are in its DNA.
British filmmaker Edgar Wright loves to take a genre staple and retrofit it with his distinctive brand of kooky charm, sensitive to the rules but bending them in his own image.
It worked a treat with his mostly excellent Cornetto Trilogy, blasting out of the gate all guts blazing with outstanding zombie comedy Shaun of the Dead, followed by wise-cracking buddy cop flick Hot Fuzz and then falling at the final hurdle with alien invasion snoozefest The World’s End.
Thankfully, his rev-tastic latest Baby Driver kicks back into high gear, a good-time Drive heist caper with added smiles, set to a Tarantino-esque soundtrack of under-loved classic tracks and the sort of outstandingly choreographed dance action, both human and automobile, that would have Gen Kelly clicking his heels in gleeful agreement.
Leaving a series of mawkish and/or morose teen movies in the dust, Ansel Elgort stars as the unlikely-named Baby and driver of the title, a much younger version of Ryan Gosling’s similarly economically vocal getaway driver. Thanks to a childhood accident, he fends off the constant irritating buzz of tinnitus with a phalanx of tune-loaded iPods always matched with an also expansive range of sunglasses. While he might not say much to the dubious crooks around him – including Jamie Foxx’ trigger-happy Bats (as mad as his name suggests) and John Hamm and Eiza González’ perma-horny couple Buddy and Darling – Baby constantly smooth talks in the liquid language of dance.
It’s sheer cinematic bliss to watch him bop along in the street, privileged to listen in on his peculiarly personalised soundtrack, including the likes of Googie Rene’s ‘Smokey Joe’s La La’, Focus’ nuts yodelling rock track ‘Hocus Pocus’ and certain Simon & Garfunkel track. And it’s not just Baby’s moves that thrill – Wright has set almost every minor movement in the movie to the same beat, from oblivious passers by, to the click of a loaded gun, to a handbrake turn. It truly is a joy to behold.
The story takes a back seat to the fast and furious hijinks and that’s just fine. Baby is messed up in this bad business to pay of his due to Kevin Spacey’s shit-eating grin of a bank-robbing mastermind Doc and to pay the bills for his ailing foster father Joseph, played with abundant charm by deaf actor CJ Jones – their sign language banter, as the older man take shim to task for his nefarious ways, adds yet another level of physical communication to the already thrumming flick.
And then there’s English actor Lily James as Debora, the diner waitress who looks like she just stepped out of David Lynch’s Double R. Catching Baby’s eye in between bank jobs, the spark is electric, with their insta-destiny to dance of into the flames of a True Romance as things take a dark turn in the frenetic final act via a grungy 80s aesthetic.
There has been some fair criticism that neither she, nor Darling, get a huge amount of backstory or scope to progress within the movie, but to be honest that’s pretty evenly applicable to the entire cast – even Baby is pretty thinly drawn. It’s really not a character piece, nor does it sign with Tarantino’s zing. Instead Baby Driver guns full throttle into action that feels like it has far more heft than the Vin Diesel movies. Elgort also grounds it with his breezy likeability. Yes Baby’s been driven to do very bad things, but he has a good heart and a fast eye for innocent bystander avoidance behind the wheel, where we spend the vast majority of this gas-guzzling spectacular.
Bill Pope’s cinematography is magnificent, as are the faultless work of the stunt and special effects department. Props, too, for the spot-on editing of Jonathan Amos and Paul Machlis, and the soundtrack is a hoot. I, for one, went along for this wild ride.
Stephen A Russell @SARussellwords