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Baby Driver
USA 2017
Directed by Edgar Wright
Running time 113 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
2 stars


Synopsis: In order to pay off a debt Baby (Ansel Elgort) has been coerced into working as a getaway driver for Atlanta crime boss, Doc (Kevin Spacey). With only one more job to go he looks forward to hitting the open road with his girlfriend, Debora (Lily James) but Doc doesn’t see it that way.

Baby Driver is a descendant of the kind of pop-culturally savvy, hyper-kinetic crime film pioneered by Guy Ritchie with Lock, Stock & Two Smoking Barrels (1998), But whereas twenty years ago that film was also strikingly original as well as brilliantly inventive, whip-smart and a ton of fun. Edgar Wright‘s film is hyper-kinetic but not much more.

The problem begins at the beginning with a bank robbery and subsequent car chase. In what is clearly intended as a character-establishing shot Baby is sitting behind the steering wheel of a getaway car listening to his iPod and energetically miming along to a rockin' tune while his cohorts rob a bank.  Baby’s way cool, right. and we know that we’re about to see some fancy driving. But who other than Wayne, Garth and the lads mime rock songs (the Queen connection gets stronger later on) and the car chase, if not all CGI, has clearly been choreographed in sections and assembled in the editing room. Bullitt (1968) or The French Connection (1971) with their white knuckle, real time excitement Baby Driver is not. One would hope that this is only a wobbly start but unfortunately that’s pretty much it, as we slow down for a bit of business with Doc, get another car chase, a bit more business with Doc, another car chase, some more business and, yes, another car chase. Along the way there’s a bit of back-story on Baby and a cute romance between him and Deb, a dreamboat who works in a nearby diner.  

Since Easy Rider (1969) Top 40 soundtracks have been used to boost the crowd-pleasing potential of films.  Using the pretext that Baby listens to music constantly to drown out his tinnitus Wright takes this technique to the max, stuffing the film with an arsenal of pop songs from artists as diverse as Sam & Dave, The Beach Boys, The Damned and Barry White. Not only are the songs thematically matched to the visuals (and in the closing credits to teh title) but Wright even choreographs and edits the action to fit their rhythms in what appears to be an attempt to create a synaesthetic continuum of sensory stimulation. The effect, however, is more like some kind of arcade game incarnated with live people and real settings.

I know Baby is supposed to be a boy-next-door type, a persona that belies his exceptional skills as a bad-ass driver but not only is no attempt (beyond a vague allusion to a childhood trauma) ever made to account for this incongruity, but Ansel Elgort is a mere cartoon of a character, a kind of Peter Parker without the super-hero tights. Kevin Spacey, as always, delivers the goods as the hard-as-nails crime boss (though his collection of toy cars seems to be a remnant of an idea that got left on the cutting room floor) and Jon Hamm stands out handsomely amongst Doc’s retinue of scurvy villains but Jamie Foxx should be doing much better work than his murderous psychopath, Bats.

You couldn’t exactly call Baby Driver boring, indeed, for what it is, it's skilfully put-together. But its rudimentary plotting doesn't cut the mustard for a heist movie and frankly, befitting its title, it is a juvenile affair, a quality which, needless to say, will guarantee it a long life with the choc-top brigade.

 

 

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