“Baby Driver” delivers a two-hour music video–but not much else
Veteran director and screenwriter Edgar Wright takes an unconventional approach to the typical heist film with "Baby Driver," yet fails to deliver much beyond high-powered car chases and a stellar soundtrack.
The eponymous protagonist Baby (Ansel Elgort) is a getaway driver with a heart of gold, reluctantly working for crime kingpin Doc (Kevin Spacey) to pay off an old debt. A childhood car crash took his parents’ lives and left him with tinnitus, so Baby drowns out the ringing in his ears with music–and relies on his favorite tracks to give him the focus he needs to execute flawless escapes behind the wheel. Baby’s the best at what he does, but his final job for Doc puts his life–and the girl he loves–at risk.
The movie kicks off on a high note with a heist scene that mirrors Wright’s 2003 music video for Mint Royale’s “Blue Song.” Parked outside in a red Subaru, Baby rocks out to The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion’s “Bellbottoms” while waiting for Doc’s crew to rob a bank. When the team runs out with guns and money in hand, Baby gears up for an electrifying car chase set to the beat of the song playing on his iPod.
Elgort’s performance is a saving grace of the film. He charms as he fingertaps, lip-syncs and dances down the street to Baby’s personal soundtracks and flirts awkwardly with the equally music-obsessed waitress Debora (Lily James). While Elgort skillfully expresses Baby’s intensity and restlessness, he also captures the protagonist’s innate sensitivity: Baby cares for his elderly foster dad, tries to keep innocent bystanders safe during heists and hangs out at the diner where his mom worked when she was still alive.
The rest of the star-studded cast doesn’t disappoint. Spacey is at his scariest Frank Underwood, delivering deadpan one-liners and sinister threats with ease, while Jamie Foxx brings some comic relief as the unhinged gunman Bats. Jon Hamm is perfectly cast as Buddy, a deceptively charming criminal who takes on jobs with his wife, the bubblegum-blowing, gun-slinging Darling (Eiza González). As the motley crew takes on a robbery of a post office, their deadly quirks and unpredictable natures heighten the tension and raise the stakes.
But for all its strong performances and thrilling chase scenes, “Baby Driver” is lacking when it comes to plot and emotional punch. Wright fails to deliver the sharp wit of his previous films “Hot Fuzz” and “Shaun of the Dead,” and the quick-paced banter between characters often feels forced and lackluster. Rather than keeping the audience invested in Baby and Debora’s budding romance, Wright puts their love story on the back burner. Debora’s character in particular lacks depth outside of her relationship with Baby, making the fact that she's one of only two women in the film even more disappointing. What starts off as a compelling story quickly devolves into a repetitive series of shoot-outs and car chases, with an ending that’s as muddled as it is contrived.
“Baby Driver” relies too much on a killer soundtrack and explosive action scenes and not enough on its well-crafted characters, ultimately delivering an end-product that has all the emotional depth of a music video. This weekend, buy the soundtrack–not the movie ticket.
“Baby Driver” opens in theaters Wednesday.
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