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I imagine that writer/director Edgar Wright got the idea for his new movie, “Baby Driver”, after watching a marathon of “Fast and Furious” movies, and thinking to himself “Gee, what if those movies were actually good for once? Like what if instead of being one mindless and unrealistic stunt after another, there was a plot to it all, and character development, and snappier dialogue, and the music soundtrack was a bigger draw for the movie than the overpriced cars being driven?” And from that germ of an idea, this movie was born.
Okay, yeah, I’m no fan of the “Fast and Furious” movies. I don’t like cars, I don’t like reckless driving, and prefer movie characters have something else to say than “family” in every other spoken sentence. Thankfully, while “Baby Driver” is about a getaway driver, his car and driving abilities aren’t the biggest attraction here. Instead, there’s an unique focus on the use of music, both when it comes to the main character’s love of music, and how music is incorporated into other aspects of filmmaking.
Our protagonist is a young man known only as “Baby” (played by Ansel Elgort). He spends almost all of his screen time with his head sandwiched between the earbuds of his iPod Classic. Truth be told, Baby is the most entertaining when he is singing along, or dancing to his favorite tunes. Baby also happens to be an expert car driver, and upon discovering his uncanny driving abilities, he becomes the wheelman of choice for a crime lord known as “Doc” (played by Kevin Spacey). Doc has a rotating roster of bank robbers, featuring the likes of “Bats” (played to perfection by Jamie Foxx), “Buddy” (played by Jon Hamm), and “Darling” (played by the absolutely gorgeous Eiza Gonzalez). Jon Bernthal, aka Netflix’s Punisher, is also a crew member, however, he’s unfortunately only in the movie for ten minutes, if that.
When Baby is not helping Doc’s crew evade arrest, he likes to take care of his deaf foster parent, make mixed tapes, and visit a local diner, where he develops a schoolboy crush for a waitress named Debora, played by Lily James (although when it comes to actresses named Lily, I prefer Collins). We learn more about Baby’s past, especially when his life was turned upside down due to a car crash when he was in as a child. Now he finds his life being turned upside down yet again, as he has one last job to do for Doc before he settles a debt to him and is free from his life of crime.
This flick is easily the best use of music on film since “Guardians of the Galaxy”. It’s part of Baby’s personality, it’s sets the tone for scenes, and it’s timed to the rhythm of the actions that are taking place. But while the music is a star of the movie in its own right, it’s doesn’t outshine the movie’s stars. The standout performance is from Jamie Foxx. As a villain, he is alluring, being equal parts smooth and cool, yet unhinged and frightening. He’s the most interesting thing on screen whenever he is on screen. Jon Hamm is his usual charming self, but when his character turns dark, he provides the right amount of menace when it’s needed. And then there’s Eiza Gonzalez, who is quite the find. She’s like a younger and hotter version of Michelle Rodriguez, and she’s capable of having more than one facial expression besdies anger. Eiza oozes with sex appeal and charisma. There’s already rumors that she could be up for the role of Catwoman in upcoming DCEU movies. You can watch more of her on “From Dusk Till Dawn: The Series”, which is currently streaming on Netflix. And yes, as an added bonus, you do get to she her bellybutton in this movie.
Edgar Wright’s trademark witty dialogue and lively camerawork are on display as well. Once again, he proves himself to one of the more creative forces in Hollywood today. At a time when every movie is now part of a bigger cinematic universe that is designed by committee for maximum profit, Wright has crafted a personal story that is uniquely told. This is obviously a movie written and directed by a man with vision, rather than some “cheap labor” director who has no personal directing style, and is just there to do as the studio tells him to. Nor is this a dumbed down, CGI bloated flick, made to appeal to Chinese audiences and other foreign markets. There are numerous pop culture references that are distinctly American, and there are one-liners peppered with play on words. This is desperately needed at a time when dialogue is painfully generic and used to explain everything that’s going on to the slower members in the audience.
However, the film isn’t perfect. As I mentioned, Elgort is entertaining while he’s singing and dancing along to his music, but his performance is easily overshadowed when he’s on screen with Foxx, Hamm, and Gonzalez. Granted, he’s meant to be a shy and quiet loner, but he plays it a little too well, and as a result, he’s the least interesting person if he’s part of a group. Lily James is good as the love interest. She’s the latest in a long line of British actresses having to pretend that she’s American for a role. Thankfully, she bothered to put a southern drawl to her American accent. Far too often, whenever British actors portray Americans, they aren’t talking with American accents, they are just talking without their British accents (and their voices become annoyingly nasal). It also helps that she has a wide range of emotional facial expressions, something that’s seriously lacking among most actresses these days (looking at you, Megan Fox and Kristen Stewart). And while he’s not phoning it in, Kevin Spacey’s performance is nothing special. It’s not great, it’s not bad, it’s just okay. Considering he’s supposed to be an evil crime boss, Foxx and Hamm were far more threatening. In the end, Spacey comes across as more of a father figure with bad intentions than an evil mastermind that you’re meant to hate.
Another aspect that I was slightly disappointed in was the humor. Wright is known for his clever sight and sound jokes, but I noticed this movie only had two jokes that were laugh out loud funny. Yes, as I mentioned, the dialogue has fun play on words, but they only provide a chuckle or two. I guess I was expecting more knee slapping funny moments, like those in Wright’s previous movies, “Shaun of the Dead”, “Hot Fuzz”, and “The World’s End”. Maybe I set my hopes up too high.
Overall, I give “Baby Driver” a solid 4 out of 5 stars. While not a perfect movie, it is a fresh and different feature that we sorely need during these days of endless remakes, sequels, and reboots. If you need further convincing, the flick is currently at 97% on Rotten Tomatoes. While I still consider “Scott Pilgrim vs. The World” is his masterpiece, Wright has made an entertaining spin on the heist/car chase genre. Oh, and did I mention that Eiza Gonzalez is gorgeous? Until the next movie review, um, “Let’s all go to the lobby to get ourselves a treat”.