Sunday, July 23, 2017
The trailer that first advertised British writer & director Edgar Wright’s “Baby Driver” made it look like a Young Adult knock-off of French producer Luc Beeson’s “Transporter” franchise with rugged, austere Jason Statham. Fortunately, nothing could be farther from the truth. Indeed, the films both deal with elusive getaway car drivers. Despite their apparent resemblance, these movies share little in common except for their automotive audacity. Comparatively, “Baby Driver” is nothing like Wright’s earlier comic trilogy “Shaun of the Dead” (2994), “Hot Fuzz” (2007), and “The World’s End” (2013). Two of those movies dealt with supernatural creatures, while “Hot Fuzz” constituted a police parody. Furthermore, “Baby Driver” is nothing like Wright’s other unconventional outing “Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World” (2010). Indeed, Wright performs a 180 with “Baby Driver” (*** OUT OF ****), a straightforward, white-knuckled, R-rated, crime thriller about blood, death, and consequences. Meantime, unlike the usual bombastic summer release, “Baby Driver” isn’t an outlandish escapade. Instead, it is a superbly staged, adrenalin-laced actioneer which rarely pulls its punches. The first three-fourths of this Atlanta-lensed saga is top-notch, while the final fourth marks time with the hero’s atonement for his crimes. Another thing that differentiates “Baby Driver” from most summer movies is it is neither a blockbuster prequel nor a sequel. Nobody gives a bad performance. Indeed, Wright surrounds his handsome, earnest, young leading man, Ansel Elgort of “Divergent,” with a robust cast, featuring Jamie Fox, Jon Hamm, Jon Bernthal, and Kevin Spacey. Jamie Fox and Jon Hamm are unforgettable as a pair of unhinged hoodlums who abhor each other, while Kevin Spacey towers above both as the wily mastermind of all the film’s crimes. Clearly, something about Edgar Wright’s tale of mayhem and murder appealed to these Hollywood veterans, and they indulge in being both evil and obnoxious. Honorable mention goes to behind-the-scenes veteran stunt coordinator Darrin Prescott of “John Wick” fame as well as the hundred or more precision drivers, riggers, camera bike riders, and stunt doubles who helped him orchestrate several harrowing but realistic driving sequences that never turn into the bizarre tomfooleries of the “Transporter” movies. Hey, I loved the “Transporter” movies, but “Baby Driver” strives to keep things realistic.
Baby (Ansel Elgort of “The Fault in Our Stars”) is a fearless, young hellion with a taste of tunes and reckless driving that converge once he takes the wheel of any vehicle. He survived a traumatic childhood after his contentious mother and father slammed their car into the rear of a tractor-trailer and died. Baby escaped grievous bodily harm. Nevertheless, he carries a couple of token scars on above an eyebrow and across his cheek. Wright sketches in Baby’s background when he doesn’t replay the scene of the accident that killed his parents. Meantime, he spent his teen years stealing cars and keeping the Atlanta Police in his rearview mirror. At the same time, he became a wizard with recording music in any format and grooves to his iPod whenever he careens around town to drown out “the hum in his drum” caused by tinnitus. Writer & director Edgar Wright provides us with a protagonist both sympathetic and charming. Baby doesn’t brag, he just drives, and when he holds onto the wheel, he can go anywhere--if there is anywhere to go. Literally, he can thread the eye of a needle in his stick-shift cars, and he can escape from predicaments that seem well-nigh impossible.
Initially, we see Baby drive the getaway car after a bank robbery, and he leads the Atlanta Police on a spectacular chase. Afterward, while the well-tailored criminal mastermind, Doc (Kevin Spacey of “The Usual Suspects”), is dividing up the loot, one of the robbers, Griff (Jon Bernthal of “The Accountant”), minimizes Baby’s role in the hold-up. Griff warns Baby that one way or another Baby will wind up with blood on his hands. We learn from Wright’s fast-paced, expository dialogue that Doc discovered Baby because he stole Doc’s Mercedes. Since that incident, Doc has used Baby as his wheel-man. Moreover, Doc keeps him on his payroll so the energetic rapscallion can pay off his debt to him. Basically, “Baby Driver” boils down to a morality yarn about a young thief who doesn’t want to see anybody die during the commission of a crime. Unlike the rest of the characters in “Baby Driver,” Baby is the only one with a shred of decency.
The sobering but exasperating thing about Baby is that he doesn’t elude the long arm of the law every time and that makes him more believable and vulnerable. Fortunately, few of Baby’s asphalt antics are so impractical that they could be considered preposterous. After an exhilarating opening sequence where our hero delivers Doc’s accomplices without a scratch, Baby embarks on an odyssey that alters his life. Primarily, Baby falls in love with a cute, young waitress at a 24-hour diner where he likes to drink java. Debora (Lily James of “Cinderella”) walks into Baby’s life and she turns him every which way but loose. Once he has repaid Doc for everything that he took from him when he stole his car, Baby plans to quit crime. In fact, he is on the straight and narrow and delivering orders for Goodfellas Pizza when Doc crosses his path again and convinces him to come back and drive for him.
“Baby Driver” boasts some of the best, high-speed driving sequences since the crime thriller “Drive” (2011) with Ryan Gosling. The thieves conspiring with Doc are a cynical, ruthless bunch who would prefer to exit in a blaze of gunfire than submit meekly to the rehabilitative options of the criminal justice system. Wright ramps up all this anarchy with a dynamic but diverse variety of tunes that Baby listens to according to the occasion. The hit songs in “Baby Driver” are reminiscent of those in the two “Guardians of the Galaxy” sci-fi space operas. Consequently, Ansel Elgort should be on the road to superstardom, because nothing about “Baby Driver” is infantile.