Movie Review: “Baby Driver” runs circles around other summer popcorn pictures


You don’t see the “Baby Driver” practicing his craft, rehearsing for the getaways he’ll have to race through from bank jobs and armored car heists. He doesn’t have a hands-on interest in automobiles, which he can steer the wheels off of — instantly calculating drifts, handbrake-turns and relative rates of acceleration.

So let’s just call him a “driving savant.”

He can remember lengthy, detailed instructions about each caper despite listening to a vast range of music through his omni-present earbuds. Let’s just say he has Eidetic memory, or total recall. And really good focus.

“Baby Driver” doesn’t invite over-thinking. But as visceral, swaggering summer popcorn picture fun, it’s hard to beat. Impossible, as a matter of fact. Forget your comic books and sci-fi sequels. THIS is the movie of the summer.

Writer/director Edgar Wright (“Hot Fuzz,” “Shaun of the Dead”) has cooked up a jaunty, jolting getaway driver movie, perfectly-cast, dazzling in its speed and fraught with violence. It doesn’t greatly alter or improve on other movies of this mini-genre — “Drive,” “The Transporter” and the granddaddy of them all, “The Driver” with Ryan O’Neal (Netlfix it).

But Wright throws three tasty hooks onto that main idea.

The driver, in this case, is a “kid.” Not young, like Ryan Gosling’s “Driver.” He’s called “Baby” by the hood (Kevin Spacey) who summons him for his various jobs.

Baby is a music nut. He collects iPods and loads them with everything from Barry White, and Lionel Richie to Queen, T-Rex and Simon & Garfunkel’s title tune — “Baby Driver.” The music isn’t just to put him in the mood and deliver a soundtrack for bone-rattling car chases through Atlanta. Baby has tinnitus and needs the music to drown out the ringing in his ears.

The reason Baby has tinnitus is a childhood trauma, one that left a few scars on his face, one that — logically — should make him fear cars and reckless driving. And how can hear anything — instructions, what have you, with those earbuds in? Oh. Right. He secretly tape records conversations, but not as “notes,” just to play around with clips of sound in creating beats and jams.

Sure, that’s insane, in that it can get him killed. But again, no over-thinking.

Ansel Elgort, the lanky/gawky and intensely likable kid from “The Fault in Our Stars,” makes an unsurprisingly passive Baby. There’s not a hint of macho about the guy, not a whit of Ryan Gosling testosterone. Baby pulls the car forward to avoid seeing what the robbers he’s chauffeuring around do to that armored car guard, head-bobbing to whatever jam he’s listening to, intentionally oblivious.

It takes all the Buckhead-via-Britain charms of Debora (Lily James of “Cinderella”) and her spot-on Southern waitress drawl to give Elgort’s Baby something no Elgort character has ever enjoyed on the screen — sex appeal.

baby3Master of menace Spacey is a no-brainer casting decision as Doc, the omnipotent employer of hoodlums to pull “jobs” and Baby to help those hoodlums escape.

Jamie Foxx brings an amusing psychosis to Bats, a pathological thief and amoral killer who gives pep talks in the car before leading his team into the bank or whatever.

“They got what’s rightly ours.”

baby1Jon Hamm is more of a surprise, giving a tightly-coiled mania to “Buddy,” drug-loving triggerman who only has eyes for the sexpot gun moll half his age (Eiza Gonzalez) who goes by the moniker “Darling.”

Wright adds Lanny Joon as a dopey Asian robber who confuses “Michael Myers” masks with “Mike Myers” masks, Flea from The Red Hot Chili Peppers as another tattooed punk-for-hire, and singer-songwriter Paul Williams as an underground gun dealer to the mob.

All of them just seasoning for a lean, mean story about a kid wanting to escape the “blood money” business he’s trapped in, the girl who might join him in that dreamed-of dash west on I-20, and the murderous mob who don’t want to let him go.

The car stunts are almost entirely real, with little of the incessant digital manipulation one gets in such movies post-“Fast and Furious.” Elgort is a shockingly effective lead, and Wright renders the budding romance, his camera swirling around two would-be love-birds, invading their space and pushing them closer together, with disarming charm.

And if the picture turns darker and darker and the finale feels like an overdrawn cop-out, that’s small potatoes. “Baby Driver” delivers its genre story beats with verve, delivering a bracing thrill-ride of popcorn picture and a most-entertaining return-to-form for its writer-director, who scores tons of points for style, if not originality.


The music of “Baby Driver” — hipster cred, or Baby Boomer’s fantasy? 

MPAA Rating: R for language throughout and violence.

Cast: Ansel Elgort, Kevin Spacey, Lily James, Jamie Foxx, Jon Hamm, Eiza Gonzalez

Credits: Written and directed by Edgar Wright. A Sony/Tristar release.

Running time: 1:53

About Roger Moore

Movie Critic, formerly with McClatchy-Tribune News Service, Orlando Sentinel, published in Spin Magazine, The World and now published here, Orlando Magazine, Autoweek Magazine
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