The summer of 2017 has been an ugly one. Baywatch, The Mummy, Transformers: The Last Knight, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales, King Arthur: Legend of the Sword. If not for Logan and Wonder Woman, I might’ve resorted to watching the Golf Channel. We’ve been lost in the cinematic desert for eight weeks with only a little entertainment nourishment to keep us alive.
But, off in the distance, there’s this glimmer, a land that we’ve been hearing about since South by Southwest (SXSW) in March, an oasis built by Edgar Wright, the writer/director of Shaun of the Dead and Scott Pilgrim vs. the World. Through the brutal haze of the summer heat, we ask ourselves if it’s real or is it just a mirage?
Thankfully, Baby Driver, the frenetic bank robbery thriller from Edgar Wright, lives up to the hype, delivering a shot of pure cinematic adrenaline just as film audiences were about to die of boredom. Ansel Elgort plays Baby, a car-driving virtuoso who works as the “wheelman” for a variety of armed robbery crews hitting banks and armored cars in metro-Atlanta. Doc (Kevin Spacey in another variation on his white collar criminal persona) finds the jobs, and Baby literally brings everyone home, safe and sound.
All of the standard tropes are present and accounted for, but they play out with such panache that you forgive the filmmaker for being so obvious with the narrative. Baby’s doing a bad, bad thing, but he’s taking care of his crippled foster father so he’s not really a villain. The masterminds populating the robbery crews are just this side of psychotic, so it’s only a matter of time until criminal turns on criminal. Baby meets a girl, takes her to dinner, and they discover they’re soulmates. It all sounds super-cheesy which makes it all the more impressive that it works so damn well.
The film’s soundtrack chain-smokes its music, lighting one song off the next. It’s such a cinematic no-no, using music to generate the emotion in your film instead of relying on the interaction of the characters. But, the music is so integral to the action that it’s a character unto itself. In several scenes, gunfire and explosions are timed to cymbal crashes and thudding kick drums. It’s so audacious that you can’t help but get sucked into the manic energy exploding off the screen.
The one weak spot in the film is Baby, himself. Ansel Elgort is a “cute kid” as my wife and mother would say, but he doesn’t hold the screen like a 21-year-old Tom Cruise did in Risky Business (1983). Underneath his clean-cut, suburban exterior, Cruise had a swagger, a sense of danger to him that Elgort is missing. Cruise, Patrick Swayze, Kiefer Sutherland and other teen heartthrob stars of the past had an edge to them where Elgort is mostly J.Crew catalog bland.
All of the supporting players (Jon Hamm, Jamie Foxx, Eiza Gonzalez and Spacey) are more interesting as characters than Baby. Some of it can be blamed on the screenplay. Baby is little more than a label — the kid who lost his mom, listens to music and drives like hell. And some of it is Elgort, who feels a lot like a tall, lanky Abercrombie model being asked to anchor an action film.
The appeal of Baby Driver may come down to one simple fact: it’s an original concept adrift in an ocean of sequels and remakes. It’s a breath of fresh air at the cineplex to simply find a cast of characters we haven’t spent time with for years and years. The purpose of the film is not to establish some kind of cinematic universe and plant seeds for sequels. The purpose of Baby Driver is to entertain, and that it does.
The Movie Isle
Scott Phillips holds a degree in print journalism from the University of Georgia and is currently a member of the Georgia Film Critics Association (GAFCA). In addition to his role as a correspondent for Timed Edition, Scott serves as the Executive Editor and Senior Writer for themovieisle.com. From 2013 through 2017, he reviewed films for filmdispenser.com. Along with his duties as a critic, Scott serves as the Content Programmer for the Way Down Film Festival held in Columbus, Georgia every fall.