“Baby Driver” Movie Review


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     I just had the occasion to re-watch Quentin Tarantino’s debut film “Reservoir Dogs”, a staple in my list of the all time great films, and it never ceases to amaze me how influential the film remains as it reaches its 25th anniversary and is as potent as ever.  We know this after watching writer/director Edgar Wright’s latest entry “Baby Driver”, a film whose set up and tone owe plenty to Tarantino’s classic, yet manages to find a way to skip to its own beat and perhaps stand on its own within the confines of the crime genre that normally depends on established work for inspiration.  In much the same way Tarantino uses music to drive the mood of his films, and more recently in the manner “Guardians of the Galaxy” effectively took its material to new heights, “Baby Driver” installs a character who lives and drives to the beats playing on his iPod, while allowing the other characters, as well as the audience, to join in for the ride.  It’s one of those films, though not a musical, that will have your head, hands, and feet moving to the beat from start to finish.

     Baby (Ansel Elgort), who often spells the word out to those who double take when they realize it really is his name, has found himself on the wrong side of a payback deal to a local crime boss named Doc (Kevin Spacey), who plans on squeezing every bit of Baby’s worth to the various criminal ventures he expertly plans.  And what does Baby, a young skinny kid who has the look of someone that couldn’t fight their way out of a paper bag, bring to the table in the game of high stakes robberies?  Put simply, the kid can drive.  So well in fact,  you could make the case he would likely dust other fictional characters of the sort, including Vin Diesel’s Dominic Toretto of the “Fast and Furious” films, or maybe even a better comparison would be Jason Statham’s Frank Martin from “The Transporter” series.  Either way, Baby brings the skills to be an effective get away driver, capable of out running pursuing police cars and helicopters with his ability to outwit the other drivers and seemingly think several moves ahead.  It’s as if he’s the Neo of get away drivers, able to see the events taking place around him in slow motion and therefore avoiding potential pitfalls before they happen.

     Doc organizes his various capers utilizing different players for each job.  That is, with the exception of Baby, who accompanies the chosen crew, serving as the driver, as part of the agreement between him and Doc to work off a past debt.  Wright effectively breaks down Baby’s character through several information filled scenes, indicating aspects of his checkered past and the fact he has a humming sound in his ear that explains why he is always seen sporting a pair of ear buds playing music that acts as an ongoing soundtrack to his life.  That music also serves as the soundtrack for the film, providing the beats to nearly every movement on screen in a way very similar to a music video, but never sacrificing in the substance department.  Nearly every moment within the film depends on a musical cue.  So much so, that even Baby himself will halt three thugs from leaving the car to conduct their heist until the music flowing through his ears hits exactly the right note.  It’s as if he’s conducting his own symphony, yet he lacks the control in order to get out and abandon the life of crime for good.

     A love interest, of course, has the power to change that.  A chance meeting with a diner waitress named Debora (Lily James), who has a similar affinity for music and life, may be the catalyst Baby needs to conclude his relationship with Doc, but nothing is ever that simple.  Wright populates the story with an endless supply of colorful characters who present themselves as obstacles to Baby’s freedom.  Standing out in that crowd is the husband/wife crime duo of Buddy (John Hamm) and Darling (Eiza Gonzalez), who bring their love for each other, as well as their love for guns and mayhem, to each job they participate in.  For the most part, they respect the skills Baby brings to the table, but that can't be said for Bats, a hardcore robbery specialist played by a scene stealing Jamie Fox.  Bats presents a problem for Baby in that he won’t let him be, always digging into who exactly is behind those ear buds when Baby would rather do his job and get out sans any social interaction with the hired guns.  Bats is the Mr. Blonde of the group, if you will, consistently threatening the entire operation with his fragile ego and itchy trigger finger.

  Wright is certainly no stranger to the nerd film culture (it didn't go unnoticed that Baby sports a very Han Solo like jacket for the entire movie), having already scored with British hits like “Shaun of the Dead”, “Hot Fuzz”, and “The World’s End” and now finding a way to nicely intertwine his brand of humor and pop culture with the common tropes of the crime genre. Wright’s script not only keeps the action moving, but it is full of interesting character traits that effectively explain the motivations of each person we meet.  There is no fodder in other words.  Everyone on screen is given their moments to shine, many of which come in the most unexpected of times.  The unpredictable nature of these events is in no uncertain terms a hallmark of the Tarantino playbook, and even the general set up in which Doc chooses different guys for each job will immediately remind you of Joe and Nice Guy Eddie’s methods of doing the same in the aforementioned “Reservoir Dogs”, but “Baby Driver” will also prove it is possible to be inspired by classic work and still take a film to another level creatively. GRADE: B+