Baby Driver lurches and grinds a bit here and there, but let’s start this out the way the movie does: going zero to 60.
The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion’s “Bellbottoms” kicks in on the soundtrack as Baby (Ansel Elgort), listening to the track via earbuds, bops his head and mouths the lyrics while sitting in the driver’s seat of his getaway car. The three bank robbers he’s waiting for frantically pile in, “Bellbottoms” picks up its beat, and we’re off: squealing through a chase sequence that’s exhilarating less for its stunt work than for the way each edit and camera swerve are completely in sync with the song. At one point Baby races through a parking garage, and the whoosh we hear each time he passes a concrete column perfectly matches the beat of the drums.
Written and directed by Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World), Baby Driver’s best moments similarly match action, music, and image. There is a single-take sequence in which Baby, walking down the street while listening to another song, spins and twirls to the music, even pausing during a horn part to mime playing the trumpet in front a mural of a trumpet player. (No wonder the movie credits a choreographer: Ryan Heffington). During such instances, Baby’s inner and outer worlds wonderfully merge in a way we usually only get from movie musicals.
If only Baby Driver was a musical, because there’s a pretty steep drop-off between the soundtrack-synced scenes and the film’s more traditional ones. We learn why Baby constantly listens to music, and that he’s reluctantly serving as a getaway driver because he’s indebted to a crime boss (Kevin Spacey). A “one more job” narrative gets a half-hearted jump start, while the movie also offers a routine, almost regressive romance with a waitress played by the infinitely more capable Lily James (Cinderella). “I’m here for you when you’re ready,” she tells Baby at one point, and that about defines her character.
Aside from James and Spacey, Baby Driver also features Jamie Foxx and Jon Hamm. The latter play hired guns—the dangerous ones doing the dirty work—and the two offer a stark contrast in screen presence. Hamm’s Buddy is supposed to be cool on the surface and volatile beneath, but you can feel the work Hamm is doing to project those layers. Foxx, meanwhile, wears his character’s psychosis more lightly, and more believably. His Bats is the one we really fear, so it’s a strategic mistake when the movie puts the bruising finale in Hamm’s unconvincing hands.
Baby’s inner and outer worlds wonderfully merge in a way we usually only get from movie musicals.
That finale, set in another parking garage, is also missing some of the open-road elegance that the earlier sequences had. (Part of the problem might be that it’s set to Queen’s “Brighton Rock,” which is known for its blare but not for its verve.) I much more enjoyed Baby Driver’s less bombastic flourishes, as when Baby, walking through a junkyard, kicks a piece of trash just as we hear a cymbal crash on The Commodores’ “Easy.” It’s a small touch, yet one of the moments from Baby Driver I’ll most remember.