I’m “biast” (con): nothing
(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)
Baby Driver is so hot, so cool, so exciting! Well, the opening sequence is, at least, the one bit in the movie that actually feels like Edgar Wright directed it. Fresh-faced getaway driver Baby waits in the car and we do too while a bank heist is happening in the background. Haha! A heist movie that isn’t about the heist at all! This is the driver’s movie, and he’s only about the driving, and nothing else. Except the music. He is also about the music — the classic rock and pop and soul and blues and jazz — in his headphones that he bops to not only while driving but while waiting: drumming on the steering wheel, flipping the wipers on and off in time to the tunes. Edgar Wright makes sure that we are all Baby at that moment, any of us who have ever sat in a car listening to music, and even those of us who’ve never done that but feel the romantic pull of the road and our tunes anyway.
That’s how good Edgar Wright is. In the opening sequence of his new movie, anyway.
And then the escape! Wow, Baby is also badass behind the wheel once the car is in motion, all zippy dangerous donuts and making the cops crash into one another (and into civilians, too), all over the city streets and freeways of Atlanta. Whee! The crisp snappy visual dynamic extends to the opening credits sequence, too, after the heist is over, in which Baby dance-strolls along the sidewalk from their hideout to grab coffee for the post-crime breakdown and money-split. Baby isn’t just a badass driver: he’s a badass walker. (Baby Walker sounds like those little wheeled chairs that infants use to scoot around before they can keep to their feet on their own, though, so ixnay on that for an awesome movie title.)
But then… that’s it. Baby Driver still has another hour and 40 minutes to go, and it never reaches that level of breezy magnificence again. Not even close. Not visually, and not thematically, either: the insouciance of laid-back criminals gives way to tedious angst and handwringing. I can’t recall ever before seeing a movie that gave up this early: usually they wait till the last act to poop out on us, to run out of ideas and steam. Perhaps the only truly original thing about Baby Driver is its astonishing pivot from gripping opener to rote plot full of totally unsurprising clichés: Baby (Ansel Elgort: Insurgent, The Fault in Our Stars) doesn’t really want to live a life of crime, but boss Doc (Kevin Spacey: Horrible Bosses 2, Margin Call) is blackmailing him. Baby is so tormented, so haunted by the memory of his dead mother. (I’m really tired of the biggest influence a woman can have on a male protagonist onscreen is to be absent.) Baby has a new girlfriend in diner-waitress-with-a-heart-of-gold Debora (Lily James: Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, Cinderella), who, like so many other ill-conceived female love interests in men’s stories, appears to have no friends or family to warn her that her new crush is bad news, and nothing to keep her from deciding on a whim that it would be a good idea to toss out her entire life and run away with him. (Newsflash to male screenwriters, ie Wright in this case: Maybe men don’t have friends, and that’s actually really sad, but women do. And we talk to our friends about what we’re doing with our lives. We are not solitary robots waiting for you to awaken us and take us away from all of this. We do not buy women like Debora. She is not us, and she is not whom we aspire to be.)
Edgar Wright used to send up cinematic clichés with gusto and with huge humor: that’s what Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz were all about, and they both remain a joy to watch today. Here he merely embraces the clichés in the most straightforward and unironic way… a way that’s pretty dour, too. (Elgort’s Baby comes across mostly as a sullen child. We don’t care much what happens to him, or whether he will extricate himself from his supposedly unwanted situation.) I kept waiting for the twist, the thing that would clue me in to the big overarching joke, the moment in which Baby Driver would pop back to the snazzy life it had at the beginning. And that moment never comes.
Baby does do a couple more getaway jobs with rotating gang members including Bats (Jamie Foxx: Annie, The Amazing Spider-Man 2) and couple Buddy (Jon Hamm: Keeping Up with the Joneses, Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie) and Darling (Eiza González: Jem and the Holograms) — oh, is he 20 years older than her? *yawn* — but there is no zing to any of it. Oddly, though, there is one sequence, a shootout that Wright synchronizes to “Tequila” playing on Baby’s iPod, which is “supercool” — or so we’re meant to take it — but also unintentionally disconcerting. Because we’re also meant to understand that Baby doesn’t like guns (except when he does use one, as in the image at the top of this review) and hates this shootout, so what the heck are we supposed to feel here? Wright mostly lets his signature visual and auditory style be squashed by the supposed needs of mainstream filmmaking — the first time he attempted to go full-on Edgar Wright in a studio movie was Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, which flopped — to the point where this barely even feels like his work… and the one moment in which he lets it spring up again is completely at odds with the story he wants to tell.
Perhaps most disappointing of all, however, is that there’s barely many more nervy and audacious automobile stunts after that tease of an opening sequence, just mostly stock car chases set to a hip retro soundtrack. If Baby’s not very engaging and his driving is mostly absent, what we did come for again? Boss tunes are not enough.