Review by Paul Stathakis | August 12, 2017

'Wright gets it wrong'

Baby (Ansel Elgort) is very particular. He mostly keeps to himself and receives guidance from his music. In fact, it goes beyond that. Everything must somehow move to the rhythms that play on his EarPods. He’s like Peter Quill’s distant cousin. The music speaks to Baby and he too has a collection of audio cassettes that  have considerable sentimental value, notably one labelled “mom” for reasons I won’t discuss here. Whenever he is assigned a job by his straight-faced boss Doc (Kevin Spacey), he successfully demonstrates his abilities behind the wheel. A skilled getaway driver, there isn’t a situation Baby can’t drive his way out of. He takes calculated risks all while drifting, burning rubber, finding openings between tight spaces, and driving opposite traffic. Talent aside, Doc has his reasons to keep employing him. We learn that Baby has a debt to settle with Doc. Until it’s resolved, Baby can’t refuse any assignments. It also helps that he is good and loyal. “I don’t squeal to the cops. I squeal on the road”, says Baby with assurance. Indeed, he probably knows more about the town streets than a tour guide. He consistently evades the police as though he’s memorized the blueprint of the city.

Of course, to pull off heists like the one in “Baby Driver”, you also need thieves. Doc, early on, explains that he never uses the same crew twice for any job. Enters Jamie Foxx, Jon Hamm, Jon Bernthal, and Elza González as the robbers. They’re each a little edgy and none of them feel comfortable with Baby’s composure. As Doc outlines the plan, they wonder if Baby is paying attention to any of the detailed instructions. When quizzed, Baby impressively summarizes the game plan. Even with the music blasting in his ears, he is able to follow. Caring for his deaf stepfather (CJ Jones) has perhaps trained him to read lips effectively. And so, the daring heists follow. But do they go as planned? Some do but one principally, doesn’t. It’s the one that changes everything including the tone of the picture.

This is where “Baby Driver” looses steam. For the first thirty minutes, director Edgar Wright keeps viewers entertained and engaged with high-octane chase scenes that look, feel, and sound real. I’m convinced that stuntmen were employed on this picture. The “Fast and the Furious” franchise should take note. It’s refreshing to see action this palpable on the big screen. As if that wasn’t enough of a treat, viewers are offered a pleasant soundtrack with many endearing and fitting tunes. Alas, the praise ends at style. Take away the action sequences and we’re left with an otherwise ordinary action film that speeds along, leaving its characters in the rear-view mirror. Yes, Baby is “cool” and charming as is his pretty love interest Debora (Lily James). However, Wright unexpectedly and quickly robs Baby of his good-mannered persona instead transforming him into a merciless, cold, less humane, and less fastidious “hero.” The change isn’t justified in the least and it weighs the film down. Perhaps this is Wright’s idea of shocking the audience but it feels quite out of place in a film that’s about getting a job done with the least amount of casualties. At least, that’s the general idea at first.

Wright is a talented writer and filmmaker. Previous projects such as “Shaun of the Dead” (2004), “Hot Fuzz” (2007), “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World” (2010), and “The World’s End” (2013) prove how creative Wright could be when all the elements fall into place. “Baby Driver” has the director trying new things including paying a great many homages to films he cherishes deeply and directors that inspired him to become one himself.  Sadly, the experiment fails. It results in a messy mixture of genres, as if Wright can’t decide on the kind of film he wants to make. Some of the dialogue feels straight out of a film noir and then it doesn’t. Then it strikes a romantic note that’s enchanting and moments later, it becomes more like “Bonnie & Clyde.” The tributes are also very obvious. Wright’s admiration of director Martin Scorsese, for instance, doesn’t just stop at the film’s title but it even extends to the name of a pizza joint. It’s not as amusing when it’s this self-evident. We get it. Wright adores movies but him wanting viewers to truly recognize that becomes somewhat tiresome. To top it off, we have Jon Hamm’s character who suddenly becomes that villain who just won’t die. “Baby Driver” never quite recovers from these missteps and becomes increasingly ridiculous as it rides the road to its dreamy ending.

 

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