The summer movie season is so frequently a cesspool of franchise films that feel about as fresh as a forgotten gym locker unearthed on the last week of school. Finding something original or inspired is often a fool’s errand. Fortunately, this fool went to check out Edgar Wright’s new film, “Baby Driver.”
I’m a big fan of Wright, who consistently makes extremely rewatchable kinetic and entertaining action-comedy hybrids. If anyone hasn’t seen “Shaun of the Dead,” “Hot Fuzz” or “The World’s End,” they are missing out on three of the most fun releases of the 21st century. In my opinion, “Baby Driver” is his worst movie—yet, it’s still pretty good.
Baby (Ansel Elgort) is a traumatized young man who possesses superhuman driving skills He works a car like John Mayer works a vagina. His skills have been co-opted by a sinister criminal mastermind, Doc (Kevin Spacey), who uses him to aid in bank heists and other nefarious quick getaways. Baby isn’t a fan of the violent lifestyle of career criminals, but he owes Doc a lot of money and is paying off his debt one job at a time.
After a terrible accident as a child, Baby suffers from a crippling case of tinnitus. To help dull the constant ringing in his ears, he constantly listens to music, providing his life with a soundtrack. Wright stages each scene to the beats and rhythms of whatever song Baby’s listening to. The gimmick adds an interesting layer to the movie, though it’s not nearly as novel as folks may have been led to believe. Once audiences understand the gimmick, it kind of makes the rest of the scene predictable, especially if they’re familiar with the song. It’s one of those things that seems really cool in the opening, but slowly loses its appeal when realizing the whole movie is basically set to a metronome.
Baby’s life takes a sharp left turn when he meets Debora (Lily James), a beautiful young waitress. Within moments of meeting, they’ve got throbbing private parts, and Baby is looking forward to a life outside of criminal escapades. Unfortunately, for Baby Doc has little interest in letting him go free. With no other options, Baby hatches a plan to leave his old life behind. And guess what? It involves driving real fast.
“Baby Driver” is a fun little cartoon of a movie. Like Wright’s previous films, this one doesn’t take place in a familiar reality but a kind of super-hip version of it, where characters talk like they’re doing impressions of 1940s gangster films and aren’t afraid to be corny as hell. I like the exaggerated realities of other Wright films, but it feels a little weird in the high-stakes world of “Baby Driver.” When characters are scenery-chewing cardboard caricatures, life and death doesn’t seem dire.
What works in “Baby Driver” are some crazy-fun action scenes and great actors having fun with the material. Jon Hamm and Jamie Foxx do a fantastic job playing morally bankrupt villains. Kevin Spacey is as cold and calculating as folks have come to expect. Ansel Elgort is a little more sedated in the lead role. It seemed he was doing a really strong Elvis impression—and not stage Elvis, movie Elvis, with a rigid, deliberate delivery.
“Baby Driver” suffers from a toxic overdose of style over substance. It’s super cool and super shallow. Wright’s earlier films are stylized, but they took time to craft three-dimensional characters. Shaun (Wright) in “Shaun of the Dead” has so many great character-building moments so audiences get to know exactly what kind of shiftless layabout he is, as he deals with the zombie apocalypse. There’s no one in “Baby Driver” who has any level of depth. They’re all character types but not characters. It’s hard to love a movie that lacks such development, no matter how well-crafted the action is.