Baby Driver review
I loved Edgar Wright’s Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World and The World’s End, so I was rather pleased my local cinema was holding an advance screening of the director’s latest, Baby Driver. It’s an exhausting film and nowhere as funny as his previous work, the dazzlingly choreographed car chases and cinematography undermined by an utterly dull protagonist. Simon Pegg’s absence as star and co-writer is sorely felt.
The film’s title character, “Baby” (Ansel Elgort), is a getaway driver who has tinnitus caused by a childhood car accident that killed his parents, and plays music 24/7 to overcome it. He hopes to pay off his debt to the mob, become a successful DJ and win the affection of waitress Debora (Lily James). Bearing strategically placed scars, Baby is as hollow as the action figure he resembles. He’s a brilliant driver who swaggers through traffic even with deafening earphones, and can lipread so well he doesn’t need to listen to his boss Doc (Kevin Spacey) plan heists.
Baby lives with Joseph (CJ Jones), a deaf elderly African-American, whose presence is the most endearing part of the film and also the most perplexing. It left me wondering how the film would play with the genuinely charismatic John Boyega, another baby-faced actor who was up for the part and discovered by Wright’s cohort Joe Wright for Attack the Block no less. In one of the film’s eye-rolling inducing moments, Joseph protests Baby’s innocence to the authorities, to remind us how special and wonderful the stone faced hero is supposed to be.
Almost everyone else in the film is far more interesting, from Jon Hamm and Eiza Gonzalez as Buddy and Darling, for whom bank robberies are just foreplay, to Jamie Foxx as Bats, who is basically a more unhinged version of “Motherfucker” Jones from the Horrible Bosses movies. Buddy and Bats’s dynamic with Baby proves to be the most interesting in the movie, unlike his relationship with Debora: while the film feels like a stylish 1970s thriller in spite of its contemporary setting, Debora seems to been borrowed from a 1950s teen movie, a helpless damsel with no agency. Tellingly, her most unique characteristic is her name. She even works at a diner, that most conservative of fast food establishments. She exists solely to motivate Baby.
Spacey was fine as Doc, though he’s largely eclipsed by a scene involving his nephew, one of the film’s funniest. He gets to provide one of the biggest laughs by himself towards the end, with a pop culture reference that is actually foreshadowed earlier on. It exemplifies much of the problem with Baby Driver’s dialogue, which is full of non-stop references to music and movies: another one of the best gags is still dependent on the audience being expected to know the difference between Mike Myers and Halloween’s Michael Myers.
It’s odd to look back at critics who accused Wright of being self-indulgent with Hot Fuzz when it’s positively restrained next to Baby Driver. Unlike Hot Fuzz, which similarly foreshadowed one of its funniest moments by having the characters watch Point Break on TV, Baby Driver’s dialogue is often just dizzying, overly long and ultimately unmemorable diatribes. It becomes as frantic and desperate to create laughs as a Michael Bay movie, and ultimately it’s a shame to see Wright make a film too close to the ones he used to parody. It will be bittersweet if this relatively generic film goes on to become his biggest box office hit.