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Review: Baby Driver (Eric W's Take)

Baby Driver (Eric W's Take)
06.28.2017
8 10

Read Chris Bumbray's take right here

PLOT: A top-notch getaway driver falls in love with a waitress he meets at a diner. Before he can commit himself fully to her, he must pull off a unique heist, alongside some very bad people, at the behest of a powerful crime boss.

REVIEW: Edgar Wright's BABY DRIVER is a happy collision of old-school storytelling and hyper-modern technique. The plot involves elements we've seen in movies for decades, familiar heist-movie tropes and characters, but it's all wrapped up in glossy package by director Edgar Wright, a student of genre cinema who consistently brings ecstatic verve to situations that could be otherwise called conventional. (Think of how he brought exhilarating life to the zombie, small town cop and alien invasion genres.) BABY DRIVER may be considered his most distinct movie to date - that is to say, it is recognizably not part of his Cornetto Trilogy - and it is the work of someone who's eager to shake up the norm and bring a singular vision to his art. Wright is never content to phone it in, which has been evident in every single frame of his movies up until this point. BABY DRIVER is no exception.

The story is one of those "one last heist" scenarios that should be identifiable to all genre fans by now: A talented driver (Ansel Elgort) for a big-deal mobster (Kevin Spacey) is looking to get out of the business. He's not a bad guy, doesn't want to be a criminal, but he owes a debt to the boss after a thoughtless act of youthful larceny many years ago. He meets a girl, Debora (Lily James), and she's a true sweetheart. She doesn't know what he does and he doesn't want to tell her. He's ready to run away with her forever, but his business with the boss won't let it happen. There's a new job that promises a lot of money, and the kid has no choice but to say yes to it, with sights set on skipping town for good after it's done. But this job comes with volatile partners, who already know the driver and seem like the sorts to endanger his loved ones if he should slip up. All he knows how to do is drive and that's what he's going to do.

The driver's name is Baby, a name that is consistently mocked throughout. It doesn't phase him, not much does. Baby shows incredible composure in the face of danger, spurred on by iPods that are almost never off (to block out tinnitus, the result of a car crash when he was a kid). There is music present in nearly every scene of BABY DRIVER, but the effect isn't obnoxious; this isn't Wright pretentiously touting his familiarity with obscure pop hits. The music serves a purpose, underlining either the tension, joy or fear of Baby's mindset. When Baby is behind the wheel, the music cranks up and we're off. Frequently it's clear that the action is choreographed to the soundtrack precisely, resulting in a bizarre and satisfying merging of melody and combat. (A heist-gone-wrong sequence set to Hocus Pocus' "Focus" is a beautiful thing to watch.)

Baby's partners are a very shady lot. You have Buddy and Darling (Jon Hamm and Eiza Gonzalez), two romantics who can't keep their paws off each other. They come across as rather amiable folks unless they're most certainly not in the mood. Then there's Bats (Jamie Foxx), whose name serves him well as he is indeed batshit crazy. A cocky killer with a death wish and no qualms about bringing others with him, Bats is clearly going to be a problem for everybody; his very presence acts like a harbinger of bad things to come.

Wright allows for a handful of suitably tense scenes where we're just hanging out with the crooks, listening to them talk and vaguely threaten each other. An intriguing sequence is set in the diner where Debora works, and it mostly involves Bats sizing up Buddy and Darling, going on a rambling speech about their presumed pasts. It's refreshing how Wright allows us to spend time with these characters and essentially put ourselves in Baby's shoes, as he's made to watch and listen to these sociopaths get worked up. Not unlike Quentin Tarantino, for Wright most of the fun is in the build-up, not necessarily the payoff. But boy can he pay it off when the time comes. The car chases are phenomenally crafted, real nail-biters where we actually believe the cars are there, zooming up and down and spinning and crashing. There's no CGI on display, at least there never appears to be; every hairpin turn looks totally authentic. In terms of pure craftsmanship, BABY DRIVER is a very finely built machine.

Wright's characters are just how they should be, fulfilling their roles in the genre. There isn't a whole lot to the character of Baby aside from his affliction and his ability at the wheel. Like a lot of protagonists in movies such as this one, Baby is more or less the straight man reacting to the extreme personalities around him. Yes, he shows an affinity for dancing and romancing, but he is also a solemn figure, letting others run away with the show. Elgort is just fine in the role, likable and appropriately boyish, but Baby is not the character you'll walk away remembering most vividly. (Nor is his romance with Debora all that exceptional; they're a cute couple and that's about the extent of it.)

Foxx has the showiest role and steals his every scene. Bats is happily nuts, with little to no regard for his cohorts or innocent bystanders in his way, and Foxx eats it up. The character is actually pretty scary, but also very amusing, and Foxx's steely-eyed enthusiasm ensures you can't take your eyes off him. Hamm's role isn't as over-the-top, not at first, but he supplies steady support. Spacey is Spacey; no one can deliver a withering put-down or rapid-fire speech like him. Gonzalez is very lovely, and I can imagine this as a springboard for her career, but the character doesn't have as much to do other than look sexy. And James, with a megawatt smile and sugary-sweet delivery, is as American as apple pie, as charming as can be. (The fact that the actress is from the UK is beside the point.)

While it doesn't come close to reinventing the (steering) wheel, BABY DRIVER is still a doozy, an intoxicating time at the movies that is guaranteed to keep a smile pinned to your face just as you're back's pinned to the chair. Touting some of the most exceptional sequences of the year, it's simply a must not only for fans of the supremely talented director, but for fans of any form of escapist entertainment.

Extra Tidbit: BABY DRIVER opens June 28th
Source: JoBlo.com

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