The Good: Good performances, Decent direction
The Bad: Lousy characters, Dull plot
The Basics: Baby Driver is a stylish and entertaining movie, but it fails to rise above entertainment as the characters, plot and themes never develop into anything more than a clever cinematic exercise.
Once upon a time, there was an actor who broke out in a little indie film called The Usual Suspects (reviewed here!) before getting top-billed in major motion pictures and getting recognition for his performance in American Beauty (reviewed here!). After that, he had the choice of virtually any role he wanted and after a string of gambling movies and box office flops, he ended up regaining his notoriety through his television work. The actor, of course, is Kevin Spacey and after years of playing President Francis Underwood, Spacey is returning to major film works. Spacey is participating this year in Summer Blockbuster season with Baby Driver. Perhaps the weirdest aspect of Baby Driver is that Kevin Spacey is relegated for the first time in so very long to a supporting role and a comparatively minor one at that.
Baby Driver is a stylish film that works more as an academic exercise than it does as a story populated by realistic characters in a permutation of the real world. Most of Baby Driver plays out like an extended music video where a young Han Solo drives a getaway car and dances through the streets. Yeah, writer and director Edgar Wright clearly wanted his lead, Ansel Elgort, to be the young Han Solo as he outfits him in a vest last seen in A New Hope (or, to be fair, being worn by Lando in the last shots of The Empire Strikes Back) and then gives Baby a virtually identical sense of moral ambiguity and angst.
While three bank robbers rob the First Bank Of Atlanta, Baby sits in his bright red getaway car, listening to "Bellbottoms" on his headphones and rocking out. When the heist goes violent, Baby has to drive the thieves out of the area in a high speed chase that allows them to effectively elude the Atlanta police. Bringing coffee to the lair, Baby's boss, Doc cuts Baby in, though privately - after everyone has departed - Doc takes most of the money back against a debt Baby owes him. Promising Baby one more job until they are square, Doc gives his driver a pair of driving gloves as a gift. Baby returns to his apartment where he cooks for his foster father, produces some music and has a flashback to how his mother died.
Doc calls Baby up for a new job with a new crew. Doc explains to Bats exactly why Baby is a part of his crew and when Bats believes Baby is not paying attention, Baby is able to relay the entire plan for the new heist without any issues. The heist the next day goes very badly and Bats and Doc have one of the crew executed for his incompetence. Doc, however, proves good to his word and lets Baby go free after the job is done. Baby returns to the diner where he is smitten with the waitress, Debora, and they talk about music. While the two start to date, Baby becomes a pizza delivery driver. When Baby and Debora are out on a date, Baby encounters Doc again and he extorts Baby back into his life of crime. Doc has Baby scope out a Post Office and he has a plan to rob the money orders there. Of course, Baby's life soon spirals out of control as Doc exerts his influence and Baby and Debora's lives are put in jeopardy.
Baby Driver might completely marginalize Kevin Spacey, but it allows Ansel Elgort and Lily James to truly shine. I've never been a fan of car racing movies and when Baby Driver is not mired in featuring big car chase sequences, the film allows Elgort's Baby and James's Debora to shine and explore some decent on-screen chemistry. The relationship between Debora and Baby may be completely contrived (waitresses in big cities get hit on all the time; it's far less charming in reality than it is as a conceit in a film) and Lily James seems to be channeling Madchen Amick's Twin Peaks character for much of her performance, but when the pair shares the screen Baby Driver hits its high notes.
Sadly, most of Baby Driver is just an extended music video. Wright is preoccupied with song-selection, stylish choreography and capturing movement. Baby is a tough character to empathize with - Baby Driver fails to satisfactorily explain why Baby doesn't move his father and Deborah away after his last job for Doc before he can ever be brought back into a life of crime. The criminals in the movie are able to bond with Baby over music and Baby Driver at least makes a passing effort to flesh out the characters before devolving into gunplay and car chases.
While Ansel Elgort gets high marks for playing Baby as a generally cool, emotionless driver, Baby Driver affords John Hamm the opportunity to shine in one of his most subtle roles to date. While Jamie Foxx plays his criminal role with constant menace, John Hamm plays Buddy as quiet for most of Baby Driver in a way that he does not usually. Hamm's Buddy is surprisingly likable without playing toward most of Hamm's sparkling-eyed moments of innate charisma. Hamm is fun to watc as Buddy, at least until the over-the-top climax of the film. Spacey, sadly, mostly scowls his way through Baby Driver.
Ultimately, Baby Driver is a movie that looks and sounds good, but ultimately features characters in situations that it is hard to invest in. The result is a momentary diversion as opposed to an enduring work of cinematic greatness.
For other films currently in theaters, please check out my reviews of:
Transformers: The Last Knight
Pirates Of The Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales
For other movie reviews, please check out my Film Review Index Page for an organized listing!
© 2017 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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