Geeks like me have been bitching about director Edgar Wright’s Ant-Man exodus for a couple of years now.
Wright was hard at work on Ant-Man for the better part of a decade, but left abruptly during production due to “creative differences.” We wound up getting an OK Ant-Man from director Peyton Reed, while Wright announced his next project to be an original, penned-by-him car chase movie.
My initial reaction to that news was “Farts!” But the final product, starring Ansel Elgort as a getaway driver with tinnitus—an adverse hearing condition made famous by Pete Townshend of The Who—is a great time.
It’s a nice car chase movie antidote to The Fate of the Furious, a car chase movie that made me never want to see a car chase movie again, let alone Vin Diesel’s mushy mug. The soundtrack is one of the year’s best, and the guy in the title role is a major star in the making.
Elgort plays Baby, who we see in the film’s opening sequence driving the getaway car for a robbery, a kinetic chase choreographed to the great Jon Spencer Blues Explosion’s “Bellbottoms.” The scene snaps with a colorful energy that’s been missing from car chases of late.
The best car chase movie in years, Drive, also featured a lonely driver and great vroom-vroom, but the soundtrack and look for that film were more meditative and hazy—not complaining; it worked beautifully. Baby Driver opts for a more clear-eyed, zippy approach, and it pays off.
Baby winds up on various crews run by a criminal kingpin played by Kevin Spacey reliving the angrier portion of his Glengarry Glen Ross role. Baby owes the man, and he has to drive getaway until he pays him off. At least, he thinks that’s what the deal is.
The chases go off with precision editing, filmed in a way that makes you feel like you are in the car. And the soundtrack, featuring music ranging from Simon and Garfunkel to Hocus Pocus to Queen, perfectly complements them.
The supporting cast includes Lily James, who enchants as Baby’s love interest, diner waitress Debora. (Cue the Beck song.) Jon Hamm gets a chance to go psycho as Buddy, a role that is deceptively laid back until Baby flips his switch. Jamie Foxx does a killer turn as Bats, the hothead of the crew that is equal parts smart and paranoid maniac. And, in one of the year’s great cameos, the one and only Paul Williams—the man who penned the Muppets’ “Rainbow Connection”—shows up as a gun dealer. I’m a child of the ’70s, and I love that little guy!
Wright has called the movie an homage to the likes of Reservoir Dogs, Heat and The Blues Brothers. He also cites Point Break, which is definitely evident in the use of Halloween masks for heists and the presence of Flea as one of the robbers. In a different sort of homage, Elgort sports a jacket that has a Han Solo look to it, perhaps a nod to his having been in the running for the role of young Han Solo last year.
If you plan on seeing Baby Driver in a theater, make sure that theater has a premium sound system. The one I saw it in had sound that was a little too muddy and soft, and it did little to drown out the ringing in my ears that I suffer from after listening to Who/Pete Townshend albums cranked up on my headphones. There was no bass in my theater. I was a little sad.
The summer had stalled out a bit after that Transformers fiasco, but Baby Driver gets things back on a confident route. Does this movie make up for the loss of Wright on Ant-Man? Nah, I’m still going to bitch about that. But it is a nice addition to the Wright movie canon, and proof that the guy can do no wrong.