Baby’s got a “hum in the drum.” It’s tinnitus, Doc (Kevin Spacey) explains while attempting to manage the potentially explosive personalities involved in planning his latest bank heist. Baby’s also got skills.
“Baby Driver” is a grandly entertaining bit of fantasy from the marvelous mind of Edgar Wright, the director whose films mix the magical with the tangible in unique and special ways. By toeing the line between pure fantasy and gritty crime elements, Wright manages to deliver thrills and make us care about Baby and his quest to be rid of a life of crime.
Baby (Ansel Elgort from “The Fault in Our Stars”) lost his parents at a young age in a devastating car accident. The collision left him with a continuous ringing in his ears. In order to cope with the noise, Baby listens to music. He has a different iPod loaded with music for any given mood or particular job—theme music for a super criminal. As a getaway driver, equipped with the right soundtrack, Baby rocks the road like nobody else. This talent is particularly useful to Doc, a criminal mastermind.
But Baby doesn’t want a life of crime. As a petty car thief when he was a juvenile, Baby made the mistake of boosting Doc’s car. And ever since, Baby has been forced to work off a sizable debt. But that debt isn’t just about money. If Baby doesn’t work for Doc, people will get hurt or worse. And when Baby finds love with sweet waitress Debora (Lily James), who helps him forget about his tragic past, he’s determined more than ever to get on the straight and narrow. Of course, that means one last job.
Writer/director Wright succeeds here by placing eclectic casting choices in a familiar bank robbery narrative handled with such style and flair that it makes the material seem fresh. Aside from watching Spacey verbally spar with Jon Hamm, Jon Bernthal, Eiza González, and Jamie Foxx, there is a sequence at the beginning of the film that is pure “Singin’ in the Rain” magic. It’s a fantastic, absolutely fantastic car chase (the best of several in the film). Wright, whose films always have a musical element to them, pulls off a major coup by making “Baby Driver” a juke box musical that explains as its central conceit why music is integral to the story.
It’s the hum in the drum that will have you humming along as Baby glides and slides both in a stolen car and while walking down the streets of Atlanta. The car chase scenes are superbly captured and each turn, reverse, and near miss perfectly occur to the beat of a pop tune. The effect is just spell-binding in the film’s first third.
But when the movie reaches its concluding act, things begin to get a little silly. Jon Hamm, who plays one of the deadly criminals, goes completely off the rails. In a sequence that feels very much like something ripped from Michael Mann’s “Heat,” there’s a lengthy bit of gun play on the streets, with running, shooting, and eventually driving. It works, for sure, but is not nearly as effective as the film’s opening sequences.
Still, I can’t fault Wright for having trouble figuring out how to follow up scenes that will become cult classic bits of cinema history. He had a similar problem with his last movie “The World’s End,” but few really complained. And as Wright evolves as a filmmaker, his next challenge will be to transcend his own work and that means coming up with a way to sustain the magic.
The cast will constantly keep you interested as the music continuously pumps to the action. The unique and sometimes fantastic “Baby Driver” should be the unlikely sleeper hit of an otherwise quiet summer blockbuster season.