Baby Driver is a fun heist thriller – as long as it stays on the road
Having made a career out of amusingly deconstructing genre films, from zombie (Shaun of the Dead) to action (Hot Fuzz) to sci-fi (The World’s End), Edgar Wright has finally made his own genre film with his long-awaited passion project, heist thriller Baby Driver. Unfortunately, by approaching the familiar story of a getaway driver forced into one last job with an increasingly straight face, Wright strays into exactly the kind of cliché he used to joke about.
Not that Baby Driver is all familiar territory. Showcasing Fast and Furious car chases with the rhythm and timing of a Busby Berkely musical, the film certainly has style and personality compared to most recent blockbusters. The opening half hour is a remarkable mixture of terrific music, high-octane thrills, expert timing, and hilariously goofy comedy. As the titular getaway driver, Ansel Elgort plays a music geek who can only drive to the perfect soundtrack, blasted in his tinnitus-affected ears through a variety of classic iPods. Sitting in the car miming to the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion’s ‘Bellbotttoms’ as a bank robbery takes place, it appears that Wright has remade Drive with Scott Pilgrim in the Ryan Gosling role, an idea only furthered by the credits sequence which sees Baby dancing down the street to soul classic ‘Harlem Shuffle’.
While Elgort remains somewhat blank in the lead role, decent as the music nerd but unconvincing as love interest or stoic badass, Wright fills Baby Driver with a talented supporting cast. Stealing the film with every casual threat or impatient speech, Kevin Spacey gives his best film performance in years as Baby’s demanding boss, Doc. Though his character is ultimately poorly defined (going from father figure to villain to caring old mentor seemingly on a whim), Spacey is clearly having the time of his life away from the more demanding House of Cards. Another TV actor relishing the chance to try something new is Jon Hamm, who initially seems to be playing his usual charmer before revealing darker depths as crew member Buddy. Even Jamie Foxx, doing his usual psychopath shtick, is tolerable as the villainous Bats.
Where Baby Driver begins to falter is with the introduction of Debora. Despite Lily James’ likable performance as the waitress Baby falls for, she’s also synonymous with the film’s major problem; Wright has no fresh angle on the typical genre film. Almost every moment of the film’s weak second half feels stale, from Baby and Debora’s bland romance to Doc’s insistence that “There’s never just one more job” to the final heist where everything inevitably goes wrong. This wouldn’t be a problem if Wright was a flavourful writer or a visual stylist (Nicolas Winding Refn took the same basic ingredients and made an instant cult classic), but while he flourishes at visual storytelling, much of Baby Driver’s middle section is slow, talky, and, astonishingly for such a kinetic director, quite dull. The music choices remain killer and every car chase setpiece works brilliantly, so it’s disappointing that so much of Baby Driver remains off the road.
Given his passion and skill as an action director, it would be almost impossible for Edgar Wright to make a bad film out of Baby Driver. Every song feels perfectly selected, every car chase masterfully composed and edited – the opening chase is one of the most impressive sequences of his career so far. However, Baby Driver lacks the humour, wit, and fresh perspective of Wright’s previous films. There’s nothing wrong with attempting a straightforward genre film, but the results shouldn’t feel as familiar and overstretched as they do here. As an action director, Wright’s still one of the best in the world, but this is the first time he’s seemed less confident working with actors and dialogue; every moment of the film outside of Baby’s getaway vehicle feels increasingly unmemorable and uninteresting. To paraphrase Tuco from The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly: “When you have to drive, drive!”
By Harry J. Ford
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