Genre films can often seem too rote and routine, due to the fact that viewers have seen the tropes and conventions of that genre played out in countless movies. For a director to carve a new path through a familiar lane of genre storytelling is a hard challenge - but when that new road is found, and paved well, it's an awesome ride for viewers. Such is the case with Edgar Wright's Baby Driver, which doesn't reinvent the heist-thriller, but definitely dusts it off, shines it up, and gives it a much-needed new paint job of style and flair.
The story follows "Baby" (Ansel Elgort), an expert driver and music aficionado, who once upon a time ran afoul of local crime boss "Doc" (Kevin Spacey), and found himself indentured to serve as wheelman in the various heists Doc plans. Baby's hearing is impaired, a handicap he turns to an advantage by timing his getaway driving to the various musical tracks he uses to drown out the ringing in ears. The unique nature of Baby's skills make him a constant target for bullying by the hardcore crooks Doc works with - but with only a few payments left on his tab, Baby is keeping cool, and his head low, until he can finally be free of "The Life."
A monkey wrench gets thrown into the engine when Baby meets Debora (Lily James), a pretty young songstress working at the local diner. Baby begins to split his focus between his criminal and personal lives - a change that doesn't go unnoticed by Doc and his unsavory cohorts like the psychotic "Bats" (Jamie Foxx). As Baby tries to plot his course out of his increasingly dangerous lane of work, he finds his criminal and personal lives set on a violent collision course that he might not be able to dance his way out of.
The new film from "Cornetto Trilogy" director Edgar Wright, Baby Driver has all the style and "cool factor" of a Quentin Tarantino gangster flick - only infused with Wright's manic comedic energy, as well as a soundtrack that rocks and rolls the eardrums in a way that exponentially enhances the viewing experience.
(Ansel Elgort stars in Baby Driver)
In terms of direction, Baby Drivers is Wright's most grounded and conventional film yet. That may seem like a negative assessment to longtime fans of the The World's End director; however, there's no need to worry: Edgar Wright making a more grounded and conventional crime thriller just means that the usual crime thriller genre conventions get blown up into much more lively and novel tropes, instead of Wright being constrained by them. Baby Driver's car chases and action sequences are slicker and more fun than comparable films (sorry Fast and Furious); the scenes of dialogue and character interaction are snappier and wittier than most gangster flicks (sorry Tarantino); and the film excels in the lost art of creating pure movie magic - the kind that makes the experience of seeing it in a theater, with a crowd, not only worthwhile, but necessary. This is a film where the laughs, the thrills, and the charm are consistent crowd-controlling offerings, and Wright (as both director and screenwriter) works every beat perfectly, and masterfully. The final act of the film goes a little too over the top, but by that point, most viewers will be having too much fun to really mind.
Ansel Elgort has already had some notable roles (Fault In Our Stars, Divergent Series), but "Baby" is his true star-making role. Wright places a lot of the film's slick and fun tone on Elgort's shoulders, and the young actor handles it with perfect poise. He exudes swagger and cool (sometimes without saying a word for an entire scene); he looks serious and capable in the action moments; and he's sweet and charming as hell in the more personal character-building moments - which include more than one dance sequence. If it wasn't apparent before, Baby Driver reveals the young actor's potential to be Hollywood's next Tom Cruise-style leading man.
Backing Elgort up is an ensemble of some high-profile actors who are really having fun with their respective roles, and each other. Lily James (Cinderella) is impeccably charming as Baby's love interest Debora, nailing that down-home Southern charm perfectly (especially for a UK actress), and creating some big, bright, sparks of chemistry with Elgort.
Jamie Foxx nearly walks away with the entire film, playing the deeply unhinged psycho thug, "Bats." Foxx's energy and swagger are massive, and he chews every one of his scenes in the best way, undercutting the character's intense menace with sharp comedic timing. Right behind Foxx is Punisher star Jon Bernthal as another manic thug, while Man Men Jon Hamm and From Dusk Till Dawn (TV series) star Eiza Gonzalez are perfectly matched in their overly-passionate 'Bonnie and Clyde' psychosis. Rounding out the cast is Kevin Spacey, who brings a cool level of menace to his bad guy mastermind, Doc.
In the end, Baby Driver is exactly the type of classic summer flick fans want: familiar yet new; big in scope, but still focused and intimate; and as cool as they come. Best of all, if you have the right tunes at your disposal, the ride home will be just as cool and fun as watching the actual movie.
Review Score: 4.5 out of 5 Stars
Baby Driver is now out in theaters. It is 1 hour 53 minutes long and is Rated R for violence, some gore, profanity, and some frightening or intense scenes.