‘Baby Driver’ a fresh-faced, fast-paced flight of fancy
When you work outside the law, there are some things that shouldn’t need to be explained, like why you shouldn’t team up with someone named Eddie No-Nose or that no one means Austin Powers when they refer to wearing a Michael Myers mask.
These lessons, plus the idea that actions speak louder than words, are only a hint of what can be gleaned from a film like “Baby Driver.”
Few people are in tune with the streets of Atlanta better than a young man who goes by the name Baby (Ansel Elgort). That makes him an invaluable wheelman to crime boss Doc (Kevin Spacey), the mastermind behind a string of bank robberies perpetrated by a revolving crew of experts.
Baby is the one member who is always in on the jobs, partly because he’s in debt to Doc and also because he’s invaluable as a getaway driver, a combination of tinnitus and an ever-present source of blaring music allowing him to zone out and drive at a level that has yet to be matched by the police.
Still, it’s not something he wants to do for his whole life, and meeting a lovely waitress named Debora (Lily James) only makes him want to get out of the criminal element all the more.
Even when Baby’s obligation to Doc is fulfilled, he is hardly free to leave town, being roped in for one last big score, one which may be a big boost to the wallet for all those involved.
If they survive it.
With a presence that varies between laser-like focus and total space case, Elgort makes an oddly ideal action hero, one who you wouldn’t expect to be a major player in a movie like this, much less the star. Much like the similarly mysterious Ryan Gosling in “Drive,” he barely speaks, but a few flashbacks of the car accident that killed his parents and damaged his hearing — as well as his interactions with a deaf foster father (CJ Miles) — say all they need to about his psyche.
Spacey is exactly what you’ve come to expect from him by now — perpetually blunt, brutal when he needs to be, and always one step ahead of everyone in his circle. He’s curiously protective of his captive employee aka “Mozart in a go-kart” as long as his “hum in the drum” doesn’t prove bad for business, but that’s why the kid always has an iPod in his pocket and keeps his mouth shut.
Others in this gang aren’t so introverted, and it’s a toss-up for who’s more threatening — Jamie Foxx as motor-mouthed, trigger-happy gang-banger Bats or Jon Hamm as Buddy, who’s all smiles when paired with his sweetheart Darling (Eiza González), not so much when someone keeps them from sucking face.
You do not want to get in between a couple that boasts His and Hers neck tattoos.
You may have grown used to James’ British voice as Cinderella and Elizabeth Bennett, yet she does just fine with a Southern accent singing the siren song that endears Baby to her so much, although there may be something more there than on the surface.
A preoccupation with sound is an element that runs throughout Edgar Wright’s latest film, in more layers than you might expect.
Besides being haunted by memories of his would-be singer mother (Sky Ferreira), the damaged boy has a habit of recording all his conversations, which might be wise if he were considering extortion, but the audio of criminal dialogue merely becomes part of a mix tape that he plays for no one in particular.
In this respect, writer-director Wright is cleverer than his main character, making the noise match the visual, sometimes quite literally as Baby strolls down the street lost in his world of music.
It’s worth noting that for a guy who’s so proficient behind the wheel, he couldn’t care less about any of the cars he drives.
Wright, composer Steven Price and cinematographer Bill Pope put forth something that’s rhythmically and geometrically arresting by giving us chase scenes by car and by foot that play out like a symphony, not to mention one of the better uses of a soundtrack in recent years.
Leave it to the guy who set a zombie-slaying spree in “Shaun of the Dead” to “Don’t Stop Me Now” to only rock us further with the music of Queen.
The plot of “Baby Driver” isn’t all that inventive, but with the right kind of framing, a well-trod story trope can seem factory new, especially when the radio is on the right settings.
It may not be the hardest song to match in terms of melody, but it’s a work of art to get a gunfight to sync up to “Tequila.”