Main cast: Ansel Elgort (Baby), Lily James (Debora), CJ Jones (Joseph), Jon Hamm (Buddy), Eiza González (Darling), Jamie Foxx (Bats), Jon Bernthal (Griff), Flea (No-Nose), Lanny Joon (JD), and Kevin Spacey (Doc)
Director: Edgar Wright
After enduring so many disappointing tentpole movies in a row, it is a relief to find that Baby Driver is a solid, enjoyable movie that, I feel, is well worth the admission ticket price. Mind you, this one is pretty gimmicky, and it relies as much on its soundtrack of retro tunes from the 1960s and 1970s as well as some 1980s rap tunes to carry it (think Guardians of the Galaxy, but with fast cars and heist like those early The Fast and the Furious movies), so some people may be put off by the first half hour or so. I know I am, as Ansel Elgort is prancing and jumping and more as if he’s in a sequel to the music video of Pharell’s Happy, but things soon settle down into something less of a shtick and more organic instead.
Baby was orphaned young when his parents died in a car accident, and he was taken in by the deaf and wheelchair-bound Joseph. As Joseph’s health worsens with age, Baby took to the streets, having developed a naturally affinity to cars. Trouble started when he jacked the vehicle of the heist planner Doc, and Doc pressed him into being the getaway car driver for his heists in order to pay back the value of the goods Baby stole from him. When this movie opens, Baby works on his last two heists fo Doc, meeting colorful characters along the way such as the husband-and-wife robber duo Buddy and Darling and the ruthless but volatile, trigger-happy Bats. Finally, his debt is paid and he is free to resume his life and woo the waitress Debora, who shares his love for music as well as that dream of just getting away from everything to start anew somewhere else. Doc, however, begs to differ. Sure, the debt is repaid, but that doesn’t mean Baby’s “employment tenure” is over…
The music thing comes in because Baby suffers from tinnitus ever since the accident that killed his parents, so he tends to hear distracting sounds inside his head. As a result, he keeps with him a collection of iPods, all full of music as well as mix tapes that he makes himself from recorded conversations of the people around him, along with a collection of shades and a tendency to do air guitar, air saxophone, or air piano things with his fingers or prance around the streets like he’s auditioning to be in some music video. This can be annoying to watch, but the movie fortunately tones down the excessive posturing after the first half hour or so and focuses more on Baby’s efforts to woo Debora as well as the assortment of criminal antics he is caught up in.
Baby Driver is one of those movies that blend humor with crime and violence, and it’s not even necessarily dark humor. The tone of this movie is upbeat despite the nature of the plot, and there is an almost superhuman-like quality to Baby’s ill-explained ability to read lips accurately and drive like a maniac daredevil behind the wheels. As a result, the movie is far more zany and over the top than the premise would suggest. This is not a bad thing at all, as the movie revels in these fantastical elements and focuses on giving everyone in the audience a good time.
Ansel Elgort always has a nice smile, and he uses that to great effect here. He and Lily James are very cute together, and their romance has a quaint, whimsical nature that appeals a lot to the John Hughes fan in me. Both are actually the weakest links in this movie, as their characters are quite bland compared to the more colorful criminals, but their blandness play off very well with those criminal types. Kevin Spacey’s Doc is both terrifying and endearing, Jamie Foxx is especially frightening as this amicable homicidal whackjob, and the criminal lovebirds are also both cute and scary. The cast all click together very well, and the use of music in this movie also fits the tone and atmosphere well.
It’s almost a shame that the use of music juxtaposed with violence is done to death just a few months ago in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, so even as that shtick works very well to make this movie a blend of old school teen romance with some Quentin Tarantino-esque conversations and characters, with great car chase scenes thrown into the mix, the whole thing doesn’t feel as fresh as it could have been. Still, the whole thing is just fun.
I am also tempted to give this movie five oogies, but still, upon reflecting on it once I’m home from the cinema, I realize that I remember far more the stylish elements of the movie than the story. And I really don’t care about Baby and Debora, I’m far more interested in Bats, Doc, Darling, and Buddy. Baby Driver has far more style than substance, but boy, I’ve had so much fun that I wish the ride hadn’t had to end so soon.