Fanboy darling Edgar Wright has certainly earned his reputation as a passionate pastiche artist and intricate stylist; his genre-infused films pair narratives of arrested male development with whiplash camerawork and razor-sharp editing. That skill and craftsmanship is fully on display in Baby Driver, but it’s undercut here by a trite screenplay and an overweening sense that the film’s twee brand of coolness, inextricably linked to a jukebox of pop songs, is somehow irresistible.
Eponymous driver Baby (Ansel Elgort, endless repeating the lame joke that, yes, his name is B-A-B-Y) is stuck working off a debt to crime boss Doc (Kevin Spacey) as his regular heist wheelman. When Baby meets pretty waitress Debora (Lily James) he immediately falls in love, and of course wants out.
Undercut by a trite screenplay and an overweening sense that the film’s twee brand of coolness, inextricably linked to a jukebox of pop songs, is somehow irresistible.
Wright’s screenplay is almost nothing but crime movie cliches: the ultra-focused loner hero, the psycho loose cannon bad guy (why do crime lords always hire these guys?), the job gone wrong, etc. And Wright’s characters are completely empty, aside from Baby’s vague trauma over losing his parents in an auto wreck. Debora is written especially thin, a token Dream Girl without even the Manic Pixie parts, such a blank that you’d wonder if Wright has ever actually talked to a woman.
The director’s clearly depending on an execution that transcend the material. Chase sequences (which make up almost the entire movie) are shot and cut to a volley of pop tunes; music follows toe-tapping characters as they go walking down the street. It takes a lot of crackerjack timing to pull off a lot of these shots and cuts, but frankly the result is completely airless. There’s not an ounce of loose jeopardy to these car chases and shootouts, not because they’re poorly constructed but because every crash and bullet hit is totally anticipated by the next beat in whatever song is playing.
Baby Driver is a dull action movie—and a pretty neat but overlong and not particularly novel music video. The bare-bones story and flamboyant style suggest that the goal here is some rock fable like Streets of Fire (from Wright’s beloved Walter Hill, who also did the here-heavily-referenced The Driver), but instead the film just plays like a 14-year-old’s fantasy of being a cool criminal.