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 deep­er and direc­tors who inspired him to become one him­self. Sad­ly, the exper­i­ment fails. It results in a messy mix­ture of gen­res, as though 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 the film 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 for 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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