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“Baby Driver” movie review

By Jeff Boudreaux

 

     “Baby Driver” is a high-octane, enthralling crime dramedy(?) from writer/director Edgar Wright (“Shaun of the Dead”), focusing on a criminal that you will not be able to hate. Therefore, in the canon of Bonnie and Clyde or John Dillinger, the filmgoing public in 2017 has a new kind of outlaw to root for. Not to glorify his unmistakable penchant for effective getaway driving, mind you, but rather because his “associates” are so evil, he quite simply looks like a hero in comparison. It also bears consideration that he’s pretty-much being forced to do this, not unlike Chevy Chase’s lovable bank robber in Neil Simon’s classic “Seems Like Old Times.”

     Baby (Ansel Elgort), we learn very early on, is paying off a debt to heist kingpin Doc (Kevin Spacey in a role he was born to play), who employs him as a getaway driver for one of his weekly (or so it seems) bank robberies. The trick to success, at least as far as Doc is concerned, mandates that all jobs have a different crew than the one before. The exception being Baby, for reasons stated previously but realistically because he’s an absolute whiz behind the wheel! In fact, the exhilarating, choreographed stunt driving onscreen leaves no doubt to the young man’s unparalleled talent. We learn that his drive (no pun intended) and determination come from his mother, whom he lost in a terrible accident at an early age, but it’s moved stylishly along through his non-stop, personal soundtrack. That’s right, Baby is never without his earbuds and his iPod, which runs the gamut from Queen to Golden Earring to Martha and the Vandellas (as well as some lesser-known, yet highly-effective gems), just whatever happens to suit his mood and guarantees that his hands and feet work in perfect unison with his steering wheel and pedals.

     It’s within these early heists that we meet such a colorful array of bad dudes (and lady). Members of Doc’s payroll include Buddy (Jon Hamm) and Darling (Eiza González), the inseparable, modern-day gangster and his sexy (yet deadly) moll, and a troublemaking triggerman named Griff (Jon Bernthal), who thinks that Baby’s a smart-ass for listening to music all the time, even when Doc’s going through the blueprints. In truth, we learn that Baby doesn’t listen to music to drown out the outside world, but rather a condition that comes from within, namely tinnitus. Unfortunately, he must go through the same rigmarole with a new crew, where the aptly-named psychopath ‘Bats’ (Jamie Foxx) eats jackasses like Griff for breakfast, or rather just shoots them on a dime! Who can blame Baby for dreaming of a better life, free of the constraints of forced “labor?”    

     In his downtime, Baby meets Debora (Lily James of “Cinderella”), a pretty diner waitress who instantly connects with this interesting young man. For both, it’s a case of love at first glance, and the entrance of one another into their respective lives brings glimmers of hope for very different reasons. Debora, of course, doesn’t know the nature of Baby’s line of work, yet she believes him when he offers promises of a shared future and financial stability. If there is any doubt that Baby and Debora are instant soulmates, it should probably be put to rest since their first meeting is accompanied by Barbara Lewis’s iconic “Baby I’m Yours,” one of those golden oldies where the title speaks for itself. On a side note: Barbara Lewis fans can rejoice, since this is the second film this year bearing a very appropriate selection of this vastly underrated singer’s hits, the first being the Oscar-winning “Moonlight,” whose inclusion of “Hello Stranger” in that tenderly climactic jukebox scene, also took place in…wait for it…a diner. Don’t you just love it when staples of Americana, music, film and the need for fulfilling, human interaction come full circle?!

     Of course, Baby’s love for Debora, and the prospect of a life with her, becomes contingent on the idea of getting away from Doc and his motley associates, once and for all. Which means, one last job. The idea is easier said than done, since Doc goes against every rule he’s ever advocated and assembles an all-star team of bank robbers, for the mother of all bank heists. Naturally, this also means clash of the titanic, criminal egos. What can you expect to happen, when Bats, Buddy and Darling accompany Baby on a ride that’s just pleading for disaster? Or will Baby risk everything to protect Debora at all costs, especially from murderous psychotics?!

     If there’s one debit to the film, it’s the quasi-ridiculous extended sequence where Baby must elude and/or combat an antagonist (which I will not reveal for obvious reasons), and its oddly reminiscent of a film character having to deal with Robert Patrick’s T-1000 from “T2: Judgment Day,” or at the very least, a coked-up Tony Montana from “Scarface.” Just die already! While this seemed to go a little overboard, in all actuality, it wasn’t exactly painful to watch and provided quite a good laugh to the audience for the scene’s big payoff.

     The unmistakable distinction of this film is its originality and vivacity. As we are effectively inside Baby’s head for each and every turn, we learn his selfless motives and we wish him success. When he falls in love with Debora, we all do. When he’s jamming to a tune, we’re right there reciprocating. Wright has tapped into our longing for thrill-seeking with a falling-in-love backdrop, and placed it in one tight little package that has one hell of a soundtrack. The very foundation that this concept is based on hits so close to home, more than you would ever believe. I mean, who doesn’t have a playlist that sends chills down our spine as we drive from here to there? If you ask me, I think we all have a little Baby in us.

***1/2 (three-and-a-half-out-of-four stars)

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