Film review: Baby Driver

by James Robins / 01 August, 2017

Baby Driver: the first half is closer to a musical.

Flashy heist picture desperately short of irony.

In the 2007 action comedy Hot Fuzz, British film-maker Edgar Wright took all the tropes of the American action picture and pushed them through a mincer of satire and send-up.

Its climactic shootout was a parade of gloriously inverted clichés, in which two bumbling cops behaved like Die Hard’s John McClane during a shootout with a gang of Somerset villagers: here’s the old chap in a grubby parka who brandishes a shotgun as if he were the Terminator; there’s the old lady who keeps a pair of handguns (Matrix-style) in the basket of her bicycle, easily despatched by the well-timed opening of a car door. The whole absurd and brilliant affair culminated in a fist fight in a miniaturised, Lego-like town, with the villain mockingly impaled on a church steeple.

What, then, are we to make of Wright’s new film, Baby Driver? Set in Atlanta, it follows an incongruously bub-faced getaway driver (Ansel Elgort), named Baby, who is coming to the end of repaying his debts to Doc, a criminal mastermind with all the best lines (Kevin Spacey). It could be worse. He could be called Ansel Elgort.

Baby has tinnitus – “a hum in the drum” – and thus keeps his iPod earbuds permanently in, a parade of hits from the Commodores, the Damned, T Rex, and Barry White playing while he does his stuff behind the wheel. As such, in its first half, Baby Driver is closer to a musical. Car chase sequences, of which there are plenty, are synchronised in the editing to Baby’s tunes. Every frantic handbrake pull chimes with a drum beat, every hairpin skid a guitar solo. All right, Mr Wright, that’s clever enough.

But as we meet the cast of robbers arranged for Baby’s final heist (played by Jamie Foxx, Jon Hamm and Eiza González), we find they aren’t pastiches of criminality but earnest thugs. Their shootouts are unironic and flashy, and their deaths – done for laughs in Hot Fuzz – are merely bloody and uncomfortable.

All of Wright’s wit and flair vanishes as the movie drags on and the jokes go with it. The result is just another desperately disappointing chase picture with a coincidentally brilliant soundtrack – a pulsing caper that deflates like a worn tyre.

IN CINEMAS NOW

★★1/2

This article was first published in the July 29, 2017 issue of the New Zealand Listener.

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