Blasting onto the screen with a Tarantino-esque soundtrack and a bubblegum, all-star cast is Edgar Wright’s Baby Driver. Wright concocted the Cornetto trilogy and hit the comic-book fans hard with Scott Pilgrim vs The World, and Baby Driver packs a punch you won’t forget. An enormous POW! and THWACK! wouldn’t be out of place in this pop picture but, behind the veil of hipster cool (and it’s sunglasses-resting-on-your-nose cool), it drops the ball somewhere.
Baby (Ansel Elgort) is a getaway driver, trapped in a bind by mastermind heist coordinator Doc (Kevin Spacey). Between Buddy (Jon Hamm) and Darling (Eiza González), and Batts (Jamie Foxx) and Griff (Jon Bernthal), Baby has seen his fair share of criminals (and we’ve seen them all on TV in Mad Men, House of Cards and The Walking Dead). But this young lad just wants to get out of the crime racket. He wants to whisk his waitress love (Lily James) far away, with only cars and music to keep them company. Between big guns, revving engines and the inevitable heist-gone-wrong, this dream is difficult to catch. Baby Driver is a thrill-seeking rollercoaster but the bland central character, and a romance that rarely lights up, undermines the lightning-pace direction. Deb, the waitress, and Baby are sweet, sure, but they lack the sheer energy of cinematic couples. Compare True Romance‘s Clarence with Baby: both have unhealthy obsessions with pop-culture and a conflicted approach to crime, but Baby’s almost-muted attitude is nothing when compared to Clarence’s can’t-stop-talking affability. Even with Baby Driver, Jamie Foxx as a bad-ass thug has more to offer, stealing every scene he’s in with an electric tension that unsettles our assumptions about where the story could go.
His character is built around his love of music. But Baby’s iPod, with digitised music, feels at odds with his lo-fi cassettes and vinyl collection. To listen to the music at all, he has digitised each and every track from every record. If he’s that tech-savvy, why on earth does he use cassettes to record and remix? Wright directs the scenes and omits the scrolling, and searching, to find the right track for the right moment: the song flicks on and each and every one fits the scene. There’s an illogical snark to the set-ups too, as Baby listens to his smooth jazz, he can also hear precisely what Doc explains. It’s not just a passing awareness; it’s a word-for-word verbatim recall. In fact, it is some sort of superpower, I guess.
Perhaps that’s the fatal flaw. This is no superhero, just your quick-witted, smart sulky teen. While the action is brutal and non-stop, with Heat intensity and banter in the planning that echoes Reservoir Dogs, there is something too untrue in Baby himself. By becoming the effortlessly cool and handsome charmer, with the perfect urban fashion sense and an aspirational library knowledge of music (and a collection one would die for), he is a little too perfect. His perfection becomes ugly and arrogant. He can do almost anything and still almost cocks it all up. When the film rests on his shoulders, but we’re more interested in the supporting players, something is wrong. Baby Driver has all the trappings for a cult classic but it sadly lacks the heart and relatability that would bring you back time and time again.