2017, R, 113 min. Directed by Edgar Wright. Starring Ansel Elgort, Kevin Spacey, Lily James, Jon Hamm, Jamie Foxx, Eiza González, Jon Bernthal, Flea, Lanny Joon.
REVIEWED By Steve Davis, Fri., June 30, 2017
Buckle your seat belt and grab the armrest. Baby Driver is behind the wheel, and what a kickass joyride it is. Filmmaker Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead, The World’s End) has accomplished something truly original here: an action film choreographed to music, with the soundtrack supplied by an eclectic playlist of songs streaming from the iPod of an angel-faced daredevil who drives the getaway car for some brazenly dangerous bank robbers. From the mind-blowing opening heist and car chase set to the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion’s garage-rocker “Bellbottoms,” Baby Driver exhilarates as its title character navigates Atlanta’s various thoroughfares at breakneck speed to the beat of a specifically chosen song playing inside his head, courtesy of ever-present white earbuds. Although this melodic accompaniment masks a permanent case of tinnitus, the truth is he can’t execute his astonishing 180-degree spins and sliding corrections without a selected recording to inspire him. Indeed, he can’t even walk down the street without syncopating his every step to a tune only he can hear. The kid’s got the music in him, literally.
At first glance, the fittingly nicknamed Baby (Elgort, in a starmaking turn) appears to be a boyish thrill-seeker of limited intelligence, a sunglass-shaded enigma of few (if any) words who looks barely old enough to possess a driver’s license. But he’s soon revealed to have both a brain and a conscience, acutely aware of the consequences of his coerced participation in the criminal activity his vehicular finesse makes possible. When this peach-fuzzed (anti) hero falls for a flirty cutie-pie working at the diner that employed his late mother (she was killed in a car accident; yeah, it’s a bit Freudian), the movie shifts gears somewhat to become a love story inspired by Hollywood noir, one in which the lovers dream of hitting the open road and watching their troubles fade in the rearview mirror. While screenwriter/director Wright’s novel fusion of movement and music provides the razzle-dazzle here (along with his crackling, mordant dialogue), it’s this born-to-run romance that gives the movie its backbone. Even if the film’s coda feels a little out of place, you can’t begrudge these sweethearts their place in the sun.
The expertly cast Baby Driver premiered earlier this year at the SXSW Film Festival, where its positive reception contributed to the studio’s decision to accelerate the movie’s release date to an earlier, more coveted summer slot. Believe the hype. Remember the visceral excitement you felt the first time you saw De Palma’s Carrie, Scorsese’s Raging Bull or Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction, among other reinventions of popular American cinema in the last 40 years or so? Baby Driver induces the same reaction. It’s that feeling of seeing something unlike anything you’ve ever seen before. It’s the experience of witnessing the fresh, the new. And if you love movies, there’s nothing like it.