Movie Review: “Baby Driver” (R)

Movie Review: "Baby Driver"“Baby Driver” has been garnering a steady stream of positive buzz since debuting at South By Southwest earlier this year. That buzz was enough to encourage Sony Pictures to bump the original release date of August up to June. Is the buzz earned? Well, simply put, if you’re a fan of the high-energy fanboy spirit of writer and director Edgar Wright, who jumped head first into this picture after his disappointing departure from Marvel’s “Ant-Man,” you owe it to yourself to see “Baby Driver” in a theater. Having said that, you might be wise to taper those expectations just a bit, because as straight-up entertaining as this movie is, I don’t know that it’s quite as memorable as Wright’s past efforts “Shaun of the Dead,” “Hot Fuzz,” “Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World,” or even the lesser seen “The World’s End.”

In “Baby Driver,” Ansel Elgort (“The Fault in Our Stars”) is Baby, a brilliant getaway driver who’s as fearless and confident as he is sensitive and soft-spoken. To drown out the humming in his ears (a condition caused by a horrible accident when he was just a child), Baby turns to music. He uses that same music for timing purposes when on the job (relax, this film works to much stronger affect than 1991’s forgotten “Hudson Hawk”).

The question remains: Why would someone as seemingly sweet and quiet as Baby be part of an illegal operation that would have him collaborating with so many undesirables? Because he has a debt to pay to professional baddie, Doc (Kevin Spacey.) And until that debt is paid, he has no choice but to keep on driving. Even Baby’s adoring, hearing-impaired foster father Joseph (C.J. Jones) and sweet-natured waitress/love interest Debora (Lily James) can’t convince this loyal driver to simply walk away from a life of crime and start anew.

Elgort was terrific in “The Fault in Our Stars,” but “Baby Driver” marks a true star-making turn for the young actor. He’s simply a joy to behold in this picture, and he has a lovely rapport with co-stars James and Jones. Spacey is entertaining as dry-witted Doc, and his fatherly moments with Baby are entertaining, because throughout the picture, we’re constantly questioning whether Doc has genuine affection for his star driver or if he’s just using him for his expert skills.

Jon Hamm, Eiza Gonzalez, Jamie Foxx, Jon Bernthal, Lanny Joon, and the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ Flea all bring varying degrees of badness and humor to the colorful host of undesirables who consistently complicate Baby’s already complicated life. Foxx’s Bats, in particular, is all menace while Hamm brings a more playful sensibility to the table as Buddy. While Buddy clearly has something a little more diabolical bubbling just under the surface, it’s oddly delightful seeing the fashion in which he treats fellow cohort and love interest Darling (Gonzalez). He truly adores this woman.

What’s most intriguing about these ruthless but weirdly likable villains is the somewhat unpredictable direction Wright takes them in. And this brings us to the real star of the show, writer and director Edgar Wright. From the homaging antics of “Spaced” to his fantastic previous big-screen efforts, few fanboy directors dazzle in quite the same way that Wright does. It’s quite disheartening that this guy isn’t more of a household name.

With “Baby Driver,” Wright is able to marry moving images with music in such a creative way that you might wish all musicals unfolded like this. True, “Baby Driver” isn’t a musical in the traditional sense, but then neither is “The Blues Brothers,” and for my money, that’s one of the best musicals ever made! In “Baby Driver,” the timing is spot on, the editing is masterful, and the song choices are utterly brilliant.

So why not a higher rating? As wonderful as large stretches of this picture are, there are missteps. The characters are lively, the performances are solid, the opening set piece is stunning, and the extended shot that follows is unforgettable. But the movie does go off the rails a bit in the final act, and for all the propulsive energy and dynamic music-tinged flair on display, some jokes fall surprisingly flat.

While the writing isn’t 100 percent on target, Wright the director more than makes up for it. He’s an infectiously likable auteur whose undeniable fanboy spirit comes through loud and clear in his vibrant work. In terms of personality, his pure love of cinema, and his childlike exhuberence, he’s sort of like Quentin Tarantino and Guillermo del Toro rolled into a British bundle of high-octane energy.

It should also be noted that “Baby Driver” is an original in a summer movie season that isn’t exactly brimming with originality. Sure, with it’s offbeat whirlwind romance, quiet but slightly rebellious central character, and hip, criminal underworld antics, “Baby Driver” does offer up elements reminiscent of “True Romance,” “Cry-Baby,” and “Pulp Fiction,” but there’s no doubt that the proceedings feel fresh when stacked up against many of this summer’s biggest films.

“Baby Driver” might be suffering from a very slight case of overhype, but it’s still well worth seeing in a movie theater. It’s a fun time at the movies delivered by one of the industry’s most energetic filmmakers.

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