Now this is what I call a summer movie. Baby Driver has it all: thrills, laughs, sex, nonstop action, a killer soundtrack, a star-making performance from Ansel Elgort and a director – Edgar Wright – who can knock the wind out of you. When was the last time to got pumped by a car chase? This revved-up ride of a movie is loaded with them, and they’re spectacular.
OK, let’s back up and get our bearings. Elgort, the teen dream of The Fault in Our Stars, plays Baby, an Atlanta getaway driver with chronic tinnitus. That constant ringing and buzzing in his ears is why he’s never without his earbuds; the music in his head drowns out the buzz and replaces it with nonstop beats. The first getaway, set to “Bellbottoms” by the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, is choreographed by Wright (Scott Pilgrim vs. the World) with a precision to match anything in La La Land.
Here’s the deal with Baby: To care for Pops (CJ Jones), the deaf gent who raised him after his mother died, he’s been driving for crime boss Doc (a wickedly sly Kevin Spacey). The kid never robs a bank himself (no stomach for it); he also wants out, but there’s one more job … there always is. Doc sets up a crew that redefines the term “natural born psychos”: Folks with criminal handles like Bats (Jamie Foxx) and Griff (Jon Bernthal), along with Buddy (Jon Hamm) and his main squeeze Darling (Eiza Gonzalez). Everyone in the supporting cast goes for broke here – but we’ll single out Hamm, who adds glaze and a slice of pineapple in a performance of bracing, nutty perversity.
Baby Driver slows down a bit when our hero falls hard for a diner waitress named Debora (Cinderella‘s Lily James). But the sweetness of their romance makes a pleasing contrast to the violence that escalates in the film’s final third. Debora, who enters the movie singing “Baby” by Carla Thomas, is miffed that so few songs give her a name check. “You have us all beat,” she tells Baby. “Every song is about you.” James is enormously appealing as this dreamer who shares her beau’s wish “to head west on the 20, in a car we can’t afford, with a plan we don’t have.” Since Baby is a man of few words, Elgort uses his expressive eyes as a window into Baby’s heart. It’s a challenging beast of a role and Elgort just crushes it.
Still, this is Wright’s show. Best known for his Cornetto Trilogy (Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz and The World’s End), the ever-dazzling Wright tops himself with this start-to-finish sensation. It’s not computers that generate the fireworks – the stunts are mostly done in camera (kudos to cinematographer Bill Pope), which gives the action a you-are-there urgency that the digiverse can’t match. Expanding on an idea from his own 2003 music video for Mint Royale’s “Blue Song,” Wright spent years perfecting how he wanted Baby Driver to look and sound on screen.
The British director’s attention to detail pays off handsomely. Glib comparisons to 2011’s Drive with Ryan Gosling don’t hold up, mainly because that expressionist film noir is not what Wright is aiming for. Think Walter Hill’s 1978’s The Driver (in tribute, Hill has a voice cameo), along with what Wright calls the Holy Trinity of 1990’s pulp fiction: Point Break, Reservoir Dogs and Heat. As Baby Driver progresses, with Queen, Young MC, Martha Reeves and the Vandellasand Simon & Garfunkel reverberating in Baby’s ears and on the soundtrack, this one-of-a-kind filmmaker leaves his indelible stamp on every frame. Wright is a true man of action, a cinematic grandmaster. Buckle up.