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Baby Driver (2017)

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Score: 4/10

Genre: Action, Crime Drama, and Heist Running Time: 1 hr. 53 min.

Release Date: June 28th, 2017 MPAA Rating: R

Director: Edgar Wright Actors: Ansel Elgort, Lily James, Kevin Spacey, Jon Hamm, Eiza Gonzalez, Jon Bernthal, Jamie Foxx

P

erhaps it is harsh to call the rhythm-infused action of “Baby Driver” a gimmick, but the oftentimes catchy beats that permeate Edgar Wright’s latest effort function almost exclusively as such. The tunes intensify, complement, and even influence the movie’s every movement, down to the dialogue, pacing, and background scenery. And it’s actually quite exhilarating – for the first half-hour. Then, the booming soundtrack begins to interfere with the storytelling rather than enhance it. Musical cues that drive the editing and song lyrics, which in turn narrate the peril, never top the cleverness witnessed in the film’s first act – and have mostly vanished long before the climax. By the time the adventure ends, it becomes apparent that if one were to peel back the glossy coating of music, “Baby Driver” is little more than the standard tale of an unlikely lawbreaker trying to escape his life of crime. Performances by notable actors Jamie Foxx, Kevin Spacey, and Jon Hamm may step slightly outside of typical roles, but they never break the mold for characters of the genre. Even the much-needed humor present in the initial segments languishes before the major predicaments surface, leaving the audience with a snazzy-sounding experiment that fails to maintain the excitement promised by the opening moments.

After car thief “Baby” (Ansel Elgort) inadvertently steals from current crime-lord and eventual father-figure “Doc” (Kevin Spacey), the youth is forced into paying the kingpin back by being a getaway driver for a string of bank robberies. As Baby prepares for the last job required to square his debt – a heist helmed by unhinged gangster “Bats” (Jamie Foxx) – he sees freedom looming near. When he meets spunky waitress Debora (Lily James), whose obsession with music and the open road mirrors his own, Baby quickly falls in love, determining to end his criminal activities for her sake. But leaving his unsavory associates behind is easer said than done; when Doc once again strong-arms the youngster into participating in a new holdup, this time with Bats and the equally deranged lovers Buddy (Jon Hamm) and Darling (Eiza Gonzalez), Baby must concoct an elaborate getaway plan just for himself.

The selling point for “Baby Driver” is the music, which is mixed into the story with intent, rhythmic editing, and obvious ceaselessness. But the problem is that it comes off too often as a subterfuge rather than as an intrinsic part of the plot. Like a music video that goes on for too long, or a musical that never quite commits to full-on song-and-dance numbers, the action is coordinated with the soundtrack to the extent that it sounds purposeful. But the execution is all off (it never reaches the perfection of sound and movement like a regular musical or even the quirkiness of something like “Delicatessen”); if the music was removed, the story could still exist. In fact, when the music does stop, the character interactions actually improve (such as in sequences purely for anticipation, including an unscheduled gas station stop and a gun buy).

For the sake of flamboyantly, showily matching the beats of rock, Baby is a terrible getaway driver. He would have been far more effective if he didn’t perform such attention-grabbing daredevilry, or if he attempted not to engage in vehicular shootouts and stunt-filled wrecks. Some of these chase scenes are moderately amusing, however, but they’re overshadowed by slower, filler sequences of mundane activities that tie into the high-energy world of Baby’s addiction to music (scenes better suited for a real musical). Unfortunately, he’s obsessed to a degree of annoyance.

Along the lines of “The Transporter” melded with “American Graffiti,” “Baby Driver” sports a world of authority-evading adventure narrated by appropriate aural tempos. But it tries very hard to make this seem fitting. Problematically, the premise is too bland to easily hide behind a perpetual soundtrack. Getting pulled back into a life of crime, a love-at-first-sight teen romance addled by participants with no believable motivations, a hero who never acts tough, an obstacle-course finale for the sake of upbeat musical accompaniment, and oodles of ludicrous coincidences (which always seem to arrive at the last second to thwart easy murders, such as drawn-out stalling and talking while waving a firearm, or a cop strolling by at just the right time) are signs of lazy writing, not innovative moviemaking.

“You don’t belong in this world.” That sentiment is reiterated regularly, but it’s too true for its own good. None of the characters are authentic in this gun-blazing, high-stakes heist film setting. Baby isn’t formidable enough to have survived for so long; Bats likes to procrastinate instead of simply killing his opposition, but only when it comes to main characters; Darling doesn’t look as if she could physically hoist two machine guns simultaneously; Debora’s life isn’t pathetic or tragic enough to abandon everything for a complete stranger; and Doc talks big but doesn’t even have a bodyguard. Perhaps worst of all, however, is the conclusion, which wants to allow for audience satisfaction but doesn’t have the nerve to incorporate real redemption. So much about “Baby Driver” is utterly unconvincing – just like its title character, who can’t assemble a sandwich without flailing about to the rhythm of a choice song on his iPod, yet he can read lips to a ridiculously accurate degree, even when not looking at a person’s lips.

– The Massie Twins

 



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