“Drive” by way of “La La Land,” “The Fast and the Furious” with brains, “Heat” meets jukebox musical – “Baby Driver” is each of those, but in a good way. It marks an intriguing and promising change of course in the career of filmmaker Edgar Wright, who displays more freedom, focus, and confidence as a writer and director here than in past.
Wright’s formula for the movie is both clever and cleverly executed: Its main character, Baby (Ansel Elgort) is a quiet young man who lives with his deaf, elderly foster father Joseph (C.J. Jones) and moonlights as a talented getaway driver for Doc (Kevin Spacey), a criminal mastermind to whom he owes a substantial debt. Baby also has a bad case of tinnitus, which he drowns out via his omnipresent earbuds and a large collection of iPods of varying generations, thus the immersive soundtrack that fuels the action.
And there is a lot of action. “Baby Driver” is a heist thriller at its core, and a well-designed one. Doc designs ultra-precise robberies for a living, and he never uses the same crew twice. Inbetween jobs, Baby meets a doe-eyed waitress named Debora (Lily James), with whom he decides to runaway after pulling the standard ‘one last job’.
Their plans are thrown into chaos when distrust and posturing between two of Doc’s regulars, Buddy (Jon Hamm) and Bats (Jamie Foxx), boils over into mistrust and double-crossing.
It manages to be a tight plot, little of which would matter if Wright hadn’t put together a worthwhile playlist to weave into his movie, and his is a well-curated doozy of more than two-dozen tracks that include the works of Queen, The Damned, T.Rex, the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, Golden Earring, Blur, Barry White, Danger Mouse, and even Dave Brubeck and Young MC.
More importantly, Wright shows an impressive knack for crime fiction storytelling, though his sensibilities are, of course, considerably more offbeat than Michael Mann or Walter Hill. “Baby Driver” is more fantasy than existential film noir, and so the action and characters are more cartoony and over-the-top.
It works like a charm, especially when Wright’s alchemy is applied to some jaw-dropping chase scenes and in-camera car stunts that make the CGI cheating of the “Fast and Furious” franchise look like amateur night. His is a deceptively simple film executed with virtuosity, and a much-needed respite to the bloated summer blockbusters clogging up the megaplexes.