Baby Driver (NC16)
Starring Ansel Elgort, Lily James, Kevin Spacey
Directed by Edgar Wright
At one point in Baby Driver, the exhilarating new action thriller from Shaun of the Dead auteur Edgar Wright, Ansel Elgort’s titular savant-like getaway driver is seen wearing what looks like Han Solo’s signature black vest. And in some ways, the baby-faced Baby is a kind of Han Solo, but his Millennium Falcon is a flaming red Subaru Impreza WRX — he can’t make the Kessel Run in less than 12 parsecs in that, but he can effortlessly execute two consecutive 180-degree turns in a narrow alley.
Like Han Solo, Baby, aka “a devil behind the wheel”, wants to go legit; he yearns for normalcy. Baby (that’s not his real name) has grown weary of being at the beck and call of a calculating boss (Kevin Spacey) and around an unsavory bunch of sociopathic misfits and loose cannons (Jamie Foxx, Jon Hamm, Jon Bernthal). Hastening the career change, too, is Baby’s blossoming romance with a diner waitress (Lily James). It’s time for one last big score to set him up for life…
Baby Driver marks a departure for Wright: It’s his first non-comedy. So park your memories of Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz and The World’s End at the door to avoid disappointment. Make no mistake, this is a crime thriller with real collateral damage — more gritty than geeky; less irony, but still idiosyncratic enough. But Baby Driver isn’t your standard-issue ‘One Last Job’ heist flick, and what sets it apart is its soundtrack.
Thanks to a childhood accident, Baby suffers from tinnitus, and so he listens to music to drown the ringing in his ears. Here’s the kicker: the prerequisite shoot-outs and vehicular mayhem are all meticulously choreographed to electrifying music — including Jon Spencer Blues Explosion’s ‘Bellbottoms’ in the heart-pumping opening chase and The Button Down Brass’ ‘Tequila’ in a blistering gunfight — piped through Baby’s earphones. A bit gimmicky, but it works like gangbusters.
In the current climate of reboots, sequels and comic-book hero adaptations, Baby Driver is a refreshingly intoxicating mash-up of music and action, a rare piece of adventurous filmmaking produced by a major studio. And that’s why I’d hate to see it be sequelised (Wright has said that he’s been asked to do a follow-up). But if Wright is compiling another mixed tape, I’m all ears. (***½)