Director Edgar Wright built his reputation on genre parodies, such as zombie spoof Shaun of the Dead, that were often funny and cartoonishly violent and which cleverly sent up the distinctively odd behaviours of that species known as the English male. His latest film, Baby Driver is neither a pastiche (despite recalling other films) nor is it an English lad film. It’s a more serious if occasionally jokey crime drama set within the sleazy underbelly of urban America.
With its glamourised violence, whiplash editing and pop-cultural references, it seems for the first 20 minutes though, that Baby Driver will be no more than an exercise in sub-Tarantino contrived cool. Add to that an irritatingly over-confident yet sullen-looking lead character in 23-year-old Ansel Elgort’s oddly named ‘Baby’ and it appears as if we’re in for a painful experience. Fortunately, the film soon takes a more satisfying path as it embraces themes of fragile romance, fractured families and damaged psyches while still satiating the needs of those desperate for a high octane thrill ride.
Elgort plays an elite getaway driver who seems to be bound in a Faustian pact with crime boss Doc (Kevin Spacey). As distinctive as his remarkable driving skills are, Baby’s behavioural quirks which include endlessly listening to music on earbuds, rarely speaking and recording conversations to use in home-made hip-hop mixes, intrigue his criminal colleagues even more. Now caring for his disabled foster father Joseph (CJ Jones) and beginning a relationship with feisty waitress Debora (Lilly James), Baby, despite his limited ability to communicate, makes it clear he wants out of the criminal world. Doc, however, has other plans.
There’s no denying Wright’s ability to create adrenalin-pumping action sequences. Here he injects new life into the car chase cliché with slick, dynamic, inventively-constructed getaway sequences that showcase Baby’s superhuman driving skills. The action scenes also reveal Baby’s remarkably good musical taste as we’re treated to the iPod selections he uses to energise himself which include classics such as the Damned’s ‘Neat, Neat, Neat’ and Queen’s ‘Brighton Rock’.
Elgort is, however, a questionable casting choice. While reference to his sad back story does allow his character to evolve from dislikeable, precocious little tosser to vaguely sympathetic figure, Elgort’s disinterested demeanour prevents Baby from forming a strong emotional connection with the audience. He’s also outshone by the pros in the cast with Spacey creepy and malevolent as the seemingly omnipotent Doc and Jamie Foxx genuinely threatening as Bats, a dangerously unbalanced member of the crime gang. John Hamm exudes his usual screen charisma as another dangerous gang member although his character becomes a little too outlandish toward the end. Lily James, who has made her name as an English rose in Downton Abbey, convinces as a perky working class American waitress.
Baby Driver is ultimately a frivolous film with only slightly more connection to reality than the various instalments in Wright’s ‘cornetto trilogy’. It’s an exercise in style that trades in visual and aural thrills but that style is often very impressive.
Nick’s rating: ***1/2
Genre: Crime drama.
Director(s): Edgar Wright.
Release date: 13th July 2017.
Running time: 112 mins.
Reviewer: Nick Gardener can be heard on “Built For Speed” every Friday night from 8-10pm right here on 88.3 Southern FM. Nick can also be heard on “The Good, The Bad, The Ugly Film Show” podcast. http://subcultureentertainment.com/2014/02/the-good-the-bad-the-ugly-film-show
- Film review: THE FAULT IN OUR STARS, from Built For Speed
- Film review: THE BOSS BABY, from ‘Built For Speed’
- ‘Built For Speed’ Playlist, Friday 2nd December 2016
- ‘Built For Speed’ playlist. January 1st 2016
- Film review: LOGAN LUCKY, by Nick Gardener from ‘Built For Speed’