Baby Driver Review: Stop and Go

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There are moments throughout Baby Driver, a passion project for writer-director Edgar Wright for some time now, where the film just relishes in its musically driven premise and revs up the fun to 11. Naturally, that’s when the film is at its best, pulling off thrilling vehicular stunts with the tunes blaring, all backed by Wright’s signature zip. And yet, between these moments, one can feel a bit of restraint, in the same form that made the director’s cap on his Cornetto trilogy, The World’s End, just a peg down from his twin masterpieces: Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz. Baby Driver is similarly a peg down, but that doesn’t stop it from being a fun ride that’ll have you tapping your foot in the theater.

Baby (Ansel Elgort) acts as a gangster’s (Kevin Spacey) protege and getaway driver. He’s the best in the business thanks to a car accident as a child that left his ears perpetually ringing (and his parents dead), forcing him to put on music to drown out the noise, which had a side effect of honing his focus behind the wheel. Spacey hams it up as the criminal boss manipulating Baby, and also paves the way for the film’s fun collection of miscreants, most notably Buddy (Jon Hamm, restrained to start but boisterously fun by the third act) and Bats (Jaime Foxx). But then Baby has the one thing happen to him in cinematic cliches that can change everything: he meets a girl, Debora (Lily James).

The basic premise is a huge part of the film’s success, which Elgort admirably carries almost silently on his shoulders throughout. But the first act is the best, where Wright delivers on two great car chases right out of the gate, linked together by a delightfully choreographed scene of Baby just living his life to the beat. It’s only when the plot really gets cooking that the film starts to reveal its flaws, chiefly how thinly written Debora is, leaving her and Baby’s romance to trudge along without a genuine spark. Too bad that much of the film’s runtime (just shy of two hours) is devoted to their supposed connection. The middle drags as a result, with too few car chases and a decidedly less musical beat.

The climax is thrilling and the film’s closing moments are exciting and even a little ambitious, however. But Wright’s restraint remains the chief detractor of most of the film. Was the director worried that things would get too over the top? Instead, it feels like he just saw the light change from green to yellow and he’s deliberating whether to speed through or slow down. Baby Driver is a good film that has all the ingredients to be great and just doesn’t take advantage of them. But there’s no taking away how enjoyable it still manages to be. You can certainly do worse in searching for your summer blockbusters in 2017, but we’ve also already seen better. Grade: B

By Matt Dougherty

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