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Saturday, July 01, 2017

Baby Driver

Have you ever been driving and imagined if someone, like the cops, was chasing you? What shortcuts would you take? Could you maneuver through those two trucks ahead? And all of this is happening while you're playing a great driving song on your stereo.

If the answer is yes, which I must admit is my answer, then that will only add to your enjoyment of Baby Driver, a car chase movie with just enough heart and humor to make it meaningful. It's complete nonsense, but it's a helluva lot of fun.

Ansel Elgort is Baby, a driver for a crime boss (Kevin Spacey). He has permanent tinnitus, a ringing in the ears, so he constantly listens to music to drown it out (he has several iPods, depending on his mood). The music allows him to focus on what he's doing, namely, driving to elude police. Spacey swears by him, especially since Elgort tried to steal Spacey's car and is now paying him back.

The film is built around three car chases. The first is a bank in downtown Atlanta. They get away, but the actual robbers can't quite understand Elgort, who never talks and always has ear buds. Turns out he lives a quiet life with his foster father (his parents were killed in the crash that damaged his hearing) who happens to be black, deaf, and wheelchair-bound (talk about laying it on thick).

Elgort wants out, and has just one job to do. In the meantime he meets a waitress (Lily James) with whom he instantly falls in love (looking at her, it's not difficult to believe). The second heist involves an armored car and a citizen with a gun gets involved, but they still get away. Spacey declares them square, but he still wants him to drive for him, and threatens him, the foster father, and James to boot if he backs out.

This leads to the climax, which is an attempted robbery of a post office, and Elgort has tricks up his sleeve. Well, not really, mostly he wings it. I'll stop there, because the action is suspenseful and the ending is not quite what we expect.

Are there problems with Baby Driver? Yes. For one thing, if I were Spacey, some kind of criminal genius, I'd plan robberies that didn't involve high risk shootouts and car chases. He should watch Hell or High Water to see how it should be done--get in and out before the police are even there.

Second, as lovely a vision Lily James is, her character is a total non-entity, with no backstory. She is close to Manic Pixie Dreamgirl territory, existing just to give the hero something to live for. Then she becomes the girl that gets in danger and has to be saved. We also have the villain with the Rasputin-like ability to stay alive, no matter the bullets or car crashes.

But the good about Baby Driver, written and directed by Edgar Wright, far outweighs the cliches. For one thing, it's funny, and has a couple of great supporting performances by two of the bank robbers. Jamie Foxx is Bats, who is probably insane, and doesn't make friends easily. But the movie really gets stolen by Jon Hamm as a former Wall Street trader, who had "debts that would make a white man blush," and has turned crook. He has married a Latina (a movie with two great beauties is a definite plus from where I am sitting), Eiza Gonzalez, and is completely dedicated to her. So, when something happens to her...

Spacey is also great, as he is now specializing in playing villains. He doesn't do the thing expected of him at the crucial time, making the film more interesting. Elgort is pretty much a blank, but he's supposed to be, and he occupies space as well as anyone. And he has a baby face.

The other "cast member" of the film that makes it work is the soundtrack, much of it actually heard by the actors. We get some of the usual, like Golden Earrings's "Radar Love," the greatest driving song ever, to a great foot and car chase set to Focus' "Hocus Pocus." I will probably have to pick up the soundtrack album--I just hope that while I'm listening to it in the car I don't end up speeding.

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