Edgar Wright knows how to make a cool movie; his unique editing style, penchant for fun, and irreverent approach to action results in films that leave you unable to stop smiling. His latest installment Baby Driver follows suit in many ways. It looks great, and it sounds even better. Unfortunately a second-rate storyline leaves Baby Driver a few streets behind some of Wright’s previous works.
Let’s start with the negatives. And by that, I mean the narrative. Baby Driver refers to a character, Baby (Ansel Elgort), a reluctant getaway driver who works for heist-thirsty Doc (Kevin Spacey). Baby is an artist behind the wheel, and can steer his way out of any situation. What he can’t steer his way out of is Doc’s team, which is understandably filled with some pretty sordid types.
We’re all familiar with the reluctant villain trope, and unfortunately Wright’s story fails to take Baby’s story in enough new directions. He gives us some excellent action scenes and a few humorous throwaway lines, but fails to take the narrative down any creative alleys. By midway through the film, we can see roughly where Baby Driver is heading, and it doesn’t swerve too far off course.
Layered over the top of this is a romantic subplot between Baby and Debora (Lily James). Their chemistry is apparent from their first interaction, but the unfailing infatuation and loyalty Debora shows towards Baby under some pretty intense circumstances strips the storyline of any believability.
What keeps things interesting is Wright’s stylistic approach to telling this story. From start to finish, Baby Driver is an immersive 4D experience; Wright is always up to something clever with his characters, their setting, the camerawork, and the background music.
The way Wright uses the latter is what redeems this film. The songs he selects are characters in and of themselves, and interact with the screenplay and action as though each song lyric is as important as the lines of dialogue. Often the two overlap, with the characters miming or singing along to the soundtrack, or the rhythm of gun shots and crashes matching the rhythm of the music.
If Wright did this wrong, the effect could have come across a little gimmicky. He avoids this though by giving music an important role in the story. Baby doesn’t go anywhere without his iPod (or more accurately, his iPods), a habit he adopted due to a childhood car accident which left him with tinnitus.
Music also explains the film’s questionable title, “Baby Driver” being an obscure Simon & Garfunkel song. One suspects though that the overlap between those who own “Bridge Over Troubled Water” and those queuing up to see this film may be small.
Wright has assembled an impressive cast, but doesn’t necessarily develop his characters enough. Spacey is the most impressive name on the bill, and elements of his ruthless character are borrowed from his House of Cards counterpart. But unlike the conniving politician Spacey has become so famous for, Doc lacks a motive for his evil, and instead comes across as an unlikeable bastard.
Doc’s arbitrary rule of never using the same combination of criminals more than once gives Wright an excuse to play mix and match with the cast, however this leaves us with a few too many bit players. Bats (Jamie Foxx) and Buddy (Jon Hamm) have their moments, but fail to connect with the audience.
Indeed, the only character who gives this film any real emotion is the soundtrack, which consistently delivers the right song at the right moment. Baby Driver’s greatest weakness is that it relies too much on this one element. Indeed, without music, this film would have little left in its tank.
Baby Driver is in cinemas from 13th July through Sony Pictures.