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Thursday, June 29, 2017 12:01 am

Blistering Baby Driver this summer’s sleeper

Ansel Elgort, Jamie Foxx, Eiza Gonzalez and Jon Hamm in Baby Driver.


Most of the time, films fail to live up to the massive hype that surrounds them. However, that is certainly not the case with Edgar Wright’s Baby Driver. Coming off a rapturous reception at this years SXSW festival and touting a 100 percent fresh rating on the aggregate review website Rotten Tomatoes (that has since fallen to 98 percent, thanks to one negative notice from killjoy Anthony Lane of The New Yorker), the movie proves to be everything its supporters claim it to be – a fun, energetic, post-modern take on the heist movie driven by a pulsing soundtrack and an engaging, veteran cast that has thoroughly bought in to Wright’s vision.

Ansel Elgort – who in every film before this has proven to be a master of bland – gives a surprisingly dynamic performance as Baby, a young man who can go nowhere without at least five iPods in his pocket and has a penchant for high-speed, serpentine driving. Involved in a car accident when he was younger, our hero has a persistent ringing in his ears that he uses his ever-present earphones and music to drown out. Unfortunately, Baby has fallen in with a bad crowd, owing a debt to Doc (Kevin Spacey), a crime boss with elaborate heist schemes, that he must repay by being the wheelman for these jobs.

The crew for these excursions is a rotating roster of lowlifes, each of them replete with quirks and charisma to spare. Buddy and Darling (Jon Hamm and Eiza Gonzalez) are intent on following a Bonnie and Clyde-like road to self-destruction; Bats (Jamie Foxx) is a loner with attitude to spare; Griff (Jon Bernthal) is a lifelong criminal who just doesn’t like anyone; and JD (Lanny Joon), who has a problem with tattoos. Baby thinks running with these upstanding citizens will soon be in his past; however, Doc has one last job he has to pull before he can take off with fellow music aficionado and all-around cutie Debora (Lily James).

Obviously, this sounds like any number of standard heist films, but what makes this one special is Wright’s clever script and the way in which he integrates what Baby is listening to with what’s on screen. His music provides the soundtrack for the elaborate car chases and action scenes, which are then edited to the rhythm of the songs. This may sound as if it has been done before, but not with the sense of imagination and attention to detail applied here by Wright and his editors, Jonathan Amos and Paul Machliss. The result is an absolutely invigorating film-going experience that, against all odds, manages to make its action and car chase scenes seem fresh and innovative. The story may not be all that original, but no matter, as this is an exercise in style in which the purpose is to comment on the tropes of the crime drama, underscoring this ironic approach both narratively and visually.

To be sure, the third act is weak, as Wright paints himself into a corner and must take the standard route out where films of this sort are concerned. Yet the dynamic performances from the cast, all of whom are obviously in on the joke, exaggerating their character’s eccentricities to marvelous effect, and the general sense of urgency and fun generated by Wright’s pacing and clever dialogue more than make up for the movie’s limp third act. The bottom line is that I had more fun watching Baby Driver than any other film so far this year. That this feature was made for a fraction of the cost of the standard superhero flick and contains no computer generated special effect, yet is far more entertaining than movies of that ilk speaks to Wright’s vast talent and imagination.

Contact Chuck Koplinski at ckoplinski@usd116.org.

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