‘Baby Driver’: So Slick and Smooth, It’s like Taking Candy from a Baby

An angelic face but a devil behind the wheel. That’s a proper description for Ansel Elgort, the baby-faced protagonist in Baby Driver, Edgar Wright’s pop soundtrack-infused caper flick that is fast, fast, fast and hilarious – not furious. You’ll be wanting to do donuts in the parking lot once the movie concludes and hope to god that you don’t get pulled over for speeding on your way home.

If you are planning a heist you need a wheelman. But not just any wheelman will do. He may not do the heavy lifting but he must have a heavy foot. Heavy enough to peel away from the scene of a robbery in an inconspicuous vehicle and zig and zag through traffic, distracting the police.

Baby is that wheelman.

Yes, his name is Baby. B-A-B-Y.

Baby is a driving savant. He commands the wheel like a conductor controls a baton. There’s a fluidity in how he zooms down busy highways and pops the emergency brake as he zips through an industrial park. His hairpin turns are likely to make other cinematic speed demons (including Ryan Gosling’s nameless driver, Frank Bullitt, and Bo Darville) slow down and take notice.

Baby moves to his own beat (literally). He rarely goes anywhere without his shades and ear buds, grooving down the road – or on a sidewalk – listening to his iPod. Music helps to drown out the ringing in his ears from tinnitus, which has plagued him since a car accident when he was a small boy.

Sitting behind the wheel, Baby’s introduction is perfunctory. Until he clicks on “Bellbottoms” by the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion. The subdued wheelman flails his bottled water, making like a microphone, and gets into the music. When three armed robbers run from the bank across the street and into Baby’s red Subaru, the volume cranks, the engine races, the gears shift, and now the real fun begins. Imagine what Nicolas Winding Refn did with Drive, cotton-candy it up with a dash of La La Land and you have one hell of an exhilarating car chase, and one of my favorite action scenes of the year.

The rendezvous is a remote warehouse where, after a coffee run set to Doc & Earl’s “Harlem Shuffle,” we spend a little time with the crew that pulled off the heist. There’s the menacing Griff (Jon Bernthal); Buddy (Jon Hamm), a dangerous but good-humored man, and his fiercely gorgeous wife, Darling (Eiza Gonzalez). The ringleader is the ever-so-deadpan Kevin Spacey as Doc. He never works with the same crew twice. But he won’t do a job without his lucky charm. Plus, Baby has been working off a debt to Doc, so he doesn’t have much say in the matter.

Edgar Wright has had the idea for Baby Driver for the better part of twenty years, and his love of music and car chases shows through in every scene. While we have the usual tropes of one last job and I’m out or the boy-meets-girl romance, Wright is able to turn the radio dial, or hit shuffle, and gives us the ultimate movie playlist. Action. Romance. Comedy. Lip-sync musical.

Give us Lily James as a waitress that sings Carla Thomas’ “B-A-B-Y” as she walks into work as if she was ready to serve malts at a 1950s soda shop, the jukebox loaded with Stax Records. The relationship Baby has with his foster father (CJ Jones), who is deaf and mute and in a wheelchair, is quite poignant.

Jamie Foxx as the developing antagonist Bats is crazy good. It was a little more than a decade ago where Foxx was a wheelman of a different sort, playing the meekish Max, cab-driving Tom Cruise around in Collateral. Now he’s an unhinged pit bull, nearly frothing as a psycho criminal who robs and kills out of pleasure, not to get rich.

Baby Driver never suffers from seen-that-before movie anxiety; everything pops. The clutch. The music. The dialogue. Kevin Spacey with his rat-tat-tat inflection, his one-liners always finding their marks. The car chases are with a purpose and not for show, and highlighted by Wright’s tight editing and well-rounded pop soundtrack.

And what a soundtrack it is. The true soul of Baby Driver is the music that feeds into Baby’s ears and guiding his every step. Audiences are likely to add some of these gems to their iPods or Spotify playlists. Queen. Martha Reeves & the Vandellas. Simon & Garfunkel (obvious choice – the film takes its name from one of their songs). Golden Earring. All solid, eclectic picks. But for me it is Barry White’s “Never Never Gonna Give Ya Up.” Its song placement is perfect and it’s now my new jam.

Let your get-up-and-go steer you to see Baby Driver. This movie is everything.

Now, where did I put my shades and ear buds?

Director: Edgar Wright
Writer: Edgar Wright
Cast: Ansel Elgort, Kevin Spacey, Jamie Foxx, Jon Hamm, Lily James, Jon Bernthal
Rating: R
Running Time: 113 minutes

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