Baby Driver Movie Review
The best way I can describe Baby Driver is to have you imagine if Edgar Wright did his best impression of Reservoir Dogs-era Quentin Tarantino deciding to give his take on old-school chase movies like Bullit or Smokey and the Bandit, and you get something of an idea of what kind of ride you’re in for.
The first movie from Edgar Wright since The World’s End – unless you count Ant-Man, which Wright quit halfway through production – Baby Driver offers an interesting entry in the cult director’s career, a relatively straightforward action film, albeit with a musical flair and a retro feel. This is also the first time Edgar Wright has made a movie without his Cornetto Trilogy collaborators since Scott Pilgrim vs. The World – and for his sake and my own, given what a messy box office dud that turned out to be, I hope Baby Driver proves to be far better.
Baby is a getaway driver in Atlanta in debt to a crime lord who uses him as the wheelman on various robberies he plans, and is just a few jobs shy of earning himself a clean slate. He’s also got severe tinnitus from a childhood accident, that he can only drown out by listening to music almost constantly – at least until he meets a young waitress named Debora around whom, Baby’s world – and his tinnitus – stops. With the possibility of a life on the outside finally within reach, Baby has just a couple more gigs before he can drive off with his lady by his side – unfortunately, crime is a lot like driving, where a lot can go very wrong before the finish line.
Baby Driver’s biggest flaw is that, in terms of heist movies, car movies, or even just action movies this year, Baby Driver treads very well traveled ground, and retro-musical stylings aside, is pretty much another fairly conventional car/heist movie we’ve seen tens of dozens of times before, from Bullit to The Transporter to Driver to the entire Fast and the Furious franchise. If you’re even remotely familiar with the subgenre and its assorted tropes, you can tell where the movie is going about 90% of the time.
Baby Driver’s biggest virtue on the other hand, is that while Baby Driver doesn’t exactly redefine the genre, or even play against type most of the time, it sure as hell gives everything it has into making the journey an entertaining one. You may see some of the tropes and plot beats coming from a mile away, but Baby Driver charges ahead at them with just the right amount of heart, humor and gusto to make sure you don’t care. That’s before you even take into account the retro style or hopping soundtrack, both of which make the movie’s trip through the genre’s greatest hits kind of fitting. When a movie manages to be as entertaining as Baby Driver is, the fact you’ve probably seen it all before doesn’t matter all too much.
One of the few glaring issues I have with Baby Driver is that, for a title character, Baby is almost delegated to a supporting role in a movie literally named after him. Part of that may be that the script doesn’t give him much to say, or much to do that he isn’t told to do by somebody else, but a talented or charismatic actor could have made that work. Sadly, Baby isn’t played by a talented or charismatic actor, he’s played by Ansel Elgort, who brings a passive blandness to the movie that seems more like he’s asleep behind the wheel than in control of it. He’s not enough to wreck the movie, but in a genre dominated by the likes of Steve McQueen and Burt Reynolds, Elgort sputters where a leading presence like Taron Egerton, Ryan Gosling or the late Paul Walker would have soared.
Thankfully, the rest of the ensemble cast more than picks up the slack. Lily James, of Downton Abbey and the live action Cinderella, is effortlessly charming as the waitress Debora, elevating what could have been a generic love interest into someone worth driving off into the sunset with. Kevin Spacey proves yet again that he can do more villany with a Southern accent and a subtle threat than most actors can with a raging monologue and a score of bodies behind them. John Hamm pretty much steals the show as Buddy, a bank robber who switches between fatherly and adversarial on a dime. Jon Bernthal is a hoot as the more hostile robber Griff, who sadly, walks off set after the 15 minute mark, only to be replaced by Jamie Foxx playing a less enjoyable version of virtually the same character. Also worth noting is that Baby Driver has a deaf character actually played by deaf actor CJ Jones, and using actual American Sign Language – something that is sadly, rare enough in Hollywood that doing so is fairly impressive.
One thing that absolutely helps elevate the movie from being just an above average genre homage is the fact it’s directed by Edgar Wright, whose attention to detail improves the movie on almost every level. This can be seen everywhere from the smooth editing and long takes in the movie’s chase scenes to the host of visual gags hidden throughout the film, but nowhere is it more clear than by the movie’s soundtrack and choreography. Nearly every action or movement in Baby Driver is timed to match the musical beats, and the result is an impressively smooth ballet of violence, one that at times leaves you tapping your toe or humming the tunes. There are Oscar-nominated musicals whose musical timing and stylings aren’t this good, which admittedly says more about them than it does Baby Driver. I wouldn’t go as far as to say Baby Driver does for car chases what John Wick did for gunplay, but it comes close at times, and the movie’s action choreographer absolutely deserves a pay raise.
Baby Driver isn’t the year’s best action movie – that would be John Wick: Chapter 2. Baby Driver isn’t the year’s most subversive movie – that would be Get Out. Baby Driver isn’t even the year’s best movie about a music-obsessed retro-styled anti-hero haunted by the death of his mother, surrounded by criminals, killers and thieves and doing his best attempt to do good along the way – that would be Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. Hell, while I’m sure Baby Driver is a better car movie than either xXx: Return of Xander Cage or Fate of the Furious, they were both a lot more daring.
That that said, the fact Baby Driver falls short of being “the year’s best ____ movie” shouldn’t be held against it, and nor should the fact that it’s not the most original movie of its kind. Not when Baby Driver is as brilliantly directed, beautifully styled, and undeniably fun as it is. Every now and then, a movie doesn’t need to reinvent the wheelman in order to be great – if they’re as good as Baby Driver, getting the job done is more than enough.
So sit back, buckle up and enjoy the ride – even if you know the destination by heart already, Baby Driver makes getting there a hell of a lot of fun.