When you think of Baby Driver director Edgar Wright you probably think of comedy. It probably stars Simon Pegg, probably has an editing style that will make your head spin and almost certainly has action sequences synchronized to some piece of music you love. It is somewhat of a surprise then that Baby Driver is not a comedy. Yes, it has the occasional gag but first and foremost Wright is channeling his love for a more nihilistic, ‘70s brand of action, a brand of action that has arguably disappeared from cinemas and put a very contemporary hand-brake spin on it.
While the likes of Fast & Furious have us used to a certain idea of bombastic, over the top, outlandish car action there is something that always feels incredibly false about those movies. Mainly because they rely so heavily upon CGI carmageddon rather than actual stunts. Wright, thanks to his unique editing techniques therefore brings a sense of genuine thrills and spills to this getaway driver thriller.
The plot is few and far between. Baby (Ansel Elgort) is a driver for crime boss Doc (Kevin Spacey). As a child Baby was involved in a car crash that left his mother dead and his hearing constantly ringing. The only way he’s able to cope therefore is by listening to music. Quelle surprise this criminal is going for one last job before leaving the underworld behind him. When he falls for waitress Debora (Lily James), Baby is all the more determined.
What makes Baby Driver so entertaining is Wright’s refusal to conform to a modern expectation of plotting. It starts at a blistering pace with two high-octane chase sequences. Said sequences are always going to be one of the key highlights of the film and while they are unlikely to rival the classics – Bullitt, The French Connection or The Blues Brothers – you get the sense Wright isn’t trying to. Instead, as he’s done throughout his career, there is a healthy mix of homage, pastiche and reverence to the classics.
And then the film slips into second gear, gently filling in the story of who Baby is and how he found himself over-heating brakes at such a young age. While the films of Walter Hill are clearly an influence on Baby Driver a more modern parallel is Nicolas Winding Refn’s Drive. The two films share a not dissimilar narrative but Baby forgoes the moody, broody ultra-violence for a film with a more friendly summer blockbuster vibe.
Sure there are Tarantino-like villains throughout, a kind of rogues gallery of bad guys and gals who would happily fit into a slow-mo cut of Reservoir Dogs’ opening scene but they’re never quite as memorable as the actors playing them. Spacey in particular treads a perfect line between being terrifyingly intimidating and warmly paternal when it suits him. By the time the wheels start spinning again you’re left only really caring about Baby and little else.
But that’s okay, because between Elgort’s blank canvas of a performance and Wright’s musical choices it works. And Baby, despite making some bad choices – some of them bad enough that you wonder how butter-wouldn’t-melt Debora would be quite so interested in him after just one date – is always likeable.
It’s not going to challenge your brain but it is going to take you on a rollercoaster of a ride the likes of which many of the summer’s blockbusters won’t even come close to as they idle in CGI neutral. Baby Driver is a pedal to the metal action thriller that acts as a love letter to pure entertainment and films of a bygone era, even if it struggles to last in the memory.