Baby Driver is the kind of movie I want to love, but I never can get beyond merely liking it. Sure, there are scenes that blow your mind, music entwined with action that’ll make you tap your foot, and acting that’ll give each character a believable voice, but it never lives up the hype I had built up in my head. That’s not the film’s fault certainly, but by the end, there’s a bit of magic that’s not there. There’s no buzz to talk and think about it. It’s over and when it is you’ll never think about it again.
After director and writer Edgar Wright blew me and millions of others away with Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, and Scott Pilgrim Saves the World, I was primed for something innovative, self-referential, and genius. Heck, this was his big follow up after spending years working on Ant-Man (and subsequently taking the crew with him when he left)! What I got was a good summer flick that pulls you out of your humdrum life and into a chase that includes cars and love at first sight. If only this film could have been that love!
Okay, so it’s not all bad. First off, Wright is always working your senses with the camera, moving about and keeping things changing at a fast clip. The car chases are well done, with only a moderate amount of fast editing to make you forget it’s just a movie. He’s impeccably connected the music to the action with gun shots sometimes even going with the beat of the music. It’s not unlike a musical in some ways, but maybe that’s where it all goes wrong.
Unfortunately, I never cared much for the main character. He’s a young kid with a good heart, but you never really get to know him, his girl, or anyone else in this movie. They’re all stand ins and sometimes even caricatures. Jamie Foxx plays Bats, a homicidal killer type who just “likes to do drugs to do jobs” and he’s not a very nice dude. Jon Hamm plays Buddy, a cocaine addict who lives fast and enjoys the moment. Then there’s Doc, played by Kevin Spacey, who is an all knowing type who has grown fond of the main character. Finally there’s Baby, played by Ansel Elgort, who is very quiet and keeps to himself. He’s the kind of character audiences will root for because he’s innocent with a past that’s filled with tragedy and none of this is his fault. But then, he’s also old enough to know better, seems to think it’s cool to wear sunglasses, and likes music a lot–maybe too much, so as to serve the plot.
Most folks will bring up the soundtrack as a huge selling point and they’re not wrong. Wright does a great job integrating tons of tunes into the film and they tie in well with Baby’s character. Suffering from tinnitus, Baby plays music all the time to drown it out and–since the tinnitus came from when his parents were killed in a car accident–a way to forget that tragic accident ever happened. Thus, the soundtrack becomes an element that’s part of the film, with Spacey’s goons grabbing at Baby’s earbuds and checking what’s on his iPod. This makes the soundtrack much more relevant and present in the events in the film. At one point it’s shown Baby can’t drive without a good tune, though that’s never really explored and more mentioned in passing.
Other elements that work on some level include Baby’s stepfather, who is deaf and communicates with Baby via sign language. This adds a subtitle element to the film and a cute relationship to show Baby does have a personality when he’s not driving. That said, they don’t do much more than chat here and there and you never get the feeling there’s any real bond beyond friendship. Odd, seeing as this guy presumably took him in when Baby was young after his parents died.
There are many good parts, many good bits of acting, and even surprises, but as a whole this film isn’t quite there. Maybe it’s because Wright’s previous films either tackled a genre 100% and this film is more of a mix, or maybe it’s because Wright is at his best when he’s homaging other movies rather than making his own. This film stays just shy of becoming a full-blown car chase movie homage, though part of me thinks that may have been a better movie. Mixing a bit of True Romance’s naive lover angle with a huge helping of that film’s violence (it gets surprisingly violent in this one, folks) and car chases (and even some Monsters, Inc. references), it never feels like one solid piece of entertainment. Baby and his girl even have a nice romantic scene in a laundromat, but then you never do see them clicking again.
And there’s the rub. Does this film click from beginning to end? Not really, but for most that’s not necessary when you just want to escape into a summer flick. This film has many good moments, and altogether they make up a good time at the movies. You just won’t walk away feeling like it was the greatest ride of your life. There were too many potholes.