Movie review: Edgar Wright trades idiosyncrasies for octane in heist flick 'Baby Driver'

Ansel Elgort with Lily James

Ansel Elgort with Lily James Wilson Webb

Both comedies and their creators rarely get the credit they deserve, so it’s not a total surprise that writer-director Edgar Wright has flown under the radar.

With Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, and TV’s Spaced, Wright has proven himself to be not only one of the funniest directors working today, but also one of the most interesting.

In Baby Driver, Wright abandons the goofballery and tries his hand at a full-bore action flick. While we do lose some of the quirks that make his movies unique, as a genre piece, Wright’s latest film outdoes many contemporary takes.

Baby (Ansel Elgort) is a getaway driver, a precocious talent whose teenage years were spent joyriding in stolen cars and screwing with the police. One of those cars, and its valuable contents, belonged to Doc (Kevin Spacey), a criminal mastermind who’s been forcing Baby to repay what he stole, one robbery at a time. After years of helping Doc, Baby needs one more job to get out for good.

Of course, in the world of heist movies, it’s never that simple. Baby, who doesn’t say much and listens to music 24/7 due to constant tinnitus, has fallen in love with a melodious waitress named Debora (Lily James). Now Doc has leverage to keep his lucky driver in the game.

It would be impossible not to draw some comparisons to 2011’s Drive, the Nicolas Winding Refn masterpiece featuring a taciturn getaway driver who becomes smitten with a waitress and thus has something to lose. That said, Baby Driver feels more accessible and has a lot more fun with the premise.

There aren’t necessarily uproarious laughs, but there’s certainly more comedic relief, and a classics soundtrack of Linklater proportions that at times makes the movie seem more like the music video for a massive playlist than a narrative film.

On the technical side of things, Baby Driver shows a few of Wright’s signature moves: clever use of diegetic sound, intricate long takes, punchy close-ups. But it’s the car chases that stand out, and that’s obviously what you need out of a movie called Baby Driver.

Years of spoofing action tropes have imbued Wright with the skill to pull off some badass stunts without the ironic wink. In the opening scene, Baby zips around Atlanta in a red Impreza WRX, evading cops post-robbery with insane J-turns, skillful drifting, and an otherworldly use of physics. These moments only mark the beginning of Wright’s clever spins on what can be a tired component of the heist movie.

However, Wright’s loyal following may have a problem with what happens between the car chases, as the story in Baby Driver can dip into formulaic territory. Wright’s at his best when he’s toying with genre conventions for a laugh, paradoxically allowing his heartfelt moments to resonate fully. Without the overarching punchline, the movie feels a bit too normal and never hits Wright’s usual peaks.

There are times when Baby Driver doesn’t even feel like an Edgar Wright movie. And for a director who’s made some of the most engrossing films in recent memory, that’s a shame.

Baby Driver
Director: Edgar Wright
Starring: Ansel Elgort, Kevin Spacey, Lily James, Jon Bernthal, Eiza González, Jon Hamm, Jamie Foxx
Rated: R
Theater: Area theaters, now showing