Although it contains more music than most tuneful of movies “Baby Driver,” the new film from director Edgar Wright, isn’t a musical in the “West Side Story,” “Sound of Music” sense. Wallpapered with 35 rock ‘n roll songs on the soundtrack it’s a hard driving heist flick that can best be called an action musical.
Long before he made “Shaun of the Dead” and “Hot Fuzz” Wright conjured up the idea for the wild ride while he listening to the John Spencer Explosion track “Bellbottoms” on repeat. He visualized a car chase to the song’s choppy beat and the idea of a young getaway driver on a doomed caper was born. Question is, does Wright keep the pedal to the metal or is “Baby Driver” out of gas?
“The Fault in Our Stars” star Ansel Elgort is the title character, an orphaned get-a-way driver with tinnitus who owes gang boss Doc (Kevin Spacey) a favour. Baby wants out of the life of crime and into the arms of diner waitress Debora (Lily James). Before they can run off to the happily-ever-after, however, he must square his debt with the older gangster.
The gangster uses different crews for every robbery, but Baby is always the driver because he’s “Mozart in a Go Cart. “He had an accident when he was a kid,” says Doc. “Still has a hum in the drum. Plays music to drown it out. And that’s what makes him the best.”
With his debt cleared after a wild and woolly robbery, Doc makes Baby an offer he can’t refuse, a gig doing another get-a-way job. It’s a job he can’t turn down. “What’s it going to be?” Doc asks, “behind the wheel or in a wheelchair?”
“One more job and we’re straight,” says Doc. “Now I don’t think I need to give you the speech about what would happen if you say no, how I could break your legs and kill everyone you love because you already know that, don’t you?”
Teaming up with an unhinged band of baddies, Buddy (Jon Hamm), Darling (Eiza Gonzalez) and loose cannon Bats (Jamie Foxx), Baby soon discovers this heist is not like any that came before. Perhaps it’s because he now has Deborah on his mind, or perhaps it’s because his partners-in-crime are a few spark plugs short of an engine block.
Even when there are no cars on screen (which isn’t very often) “Baby Driver” is in motion. Working with Sia choreographer Ryan Heffington, Wright has created a stylized dance between his camera and actors. It’s frenetic, melodic and just a dance step or two away from being the world’s first car chase musical.
Elgort is the engine that drives the movie. With dark Ray Bans and tousled hair he recalls Tom Cruise in “Risky Business.” His character has suffered great loss and copes by thrill chasing set to a soundtrack provided by stolen iPods. Baby doesn’t say much—“You know why they call him Baby, right?” says Buddy. “Still waiting on his first words.”—but the character takes a journey, physical and metaphysical. He has a wide arc summed up by the old cliché action speak louder than words.
Spacey is more verbose. He plays Doc as a gangster who talks like a character out of a Raymond Chandler movie. Instead of “get rid of the car,” Doc instructs Baby to “sunset that car.” It’s a small but important role that adds flair and some laughs to the film.
James is all sweetness and light as Debora, a woman whose life is changed in the space of just a few days. Hamm, Foxx and González, meanwhile, bring various levels of badassery to contrast Baby’s ever-developing sense of morality. The movie’s tone is light, but this isn’t an outright comedy like Wright’s other films. Hamm and Foxx toss off the odd funny line but both bring the fire when necessary, bringing a kinetic undertone of danger to every scene they’re in.
“Baby Driver” succumbs to cliché near the end but for most of its running time is an exhilarating ride, fuelled by a tank full of adrenaline.