It’s summer, and a worthwhile movie might only need fast cars, great tunes, funny gangsters and a boy meeting a girl. Take heed: Writer-director Edgar Wright’s comic actioner Baby Driver has this covered.
Like his earlier films — Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, World’s End — Baby Driver is a joyful riff on genre fare from a devoted scholar. Viewers won’t be taxed by the plot: A nice guy is just the driver for a gang, but when he decides he’d rather not be a criminal, walking away isn’t so easy. But that’s enough of a familiar frame to hang colorful stuff on.
Baby (Ansel Elgort) is a great getaway driver, even if he rarely speaks and is always listening to music on ear buds. He’s the odd man out in the gang’s rotation of motor-mouths, which include Buddy (Jon Hamm), Bats (Jamie Foxx) and leader Doc (Kevin Spacey).
Baby Driver crashes out of the gate with a pair of bravado scenes that showcase Baby’s unique skills. First, there’s the white-knuckle, rapidly edited car chase through the streets of Atlanta, while Baby sings along and steers the car to Jon Spencer Blues Explosion’s “Bellbottom.” It’s gimmicky, but a blast. Then, in one long take, Wright puts Baby on the sidewalk, bopping along to “Harlem Shuffle,” while the city scenes behind him deliver grace notes to the lyrics.
Later, Baby meets a waitress named Debora (Lily James), and it turns out the two of them share the same dream of just driving away. She tells him about a Beck song; he shares a T. Rex tune (a band he adorably mistakenly calls “trex”). Turns out that this film is a crime actioner wrapped in a quirky musical rom-com, with music and songs informing nearly every scene. (Even the hard-ass Bats speaks knowingly about the ill effect of “hex” songs, like “Hotel California” or Boyz II Men’s “End of the Road.”) Baby Driver is an homage to kicky heist films, but at its real heart, it’s a valentine to all the sentimental musicheads and crate-diggers out there. Instead of a closet of weapons, Baby has a plastic tub full of assorted iPods, pre-loaded for different moods and scenarios.
Like most of Wright’s films, this one is about 15 minutes too long, and the ending is just OK when ideally it should be as punchy and hell-yeah as the opening. But think of Baby Driver as a mix tape: Of course, it has to start strong, and then develop a good groove among disparate elements — an oddball lead, romance, Kevin Spacey being scary, a car chase, a discussion about Dolly Parton, a shootout. Even when all that works, it can be hard to nail down just the right jam for the end. Still a great mix though.