High expectations are the worst.
There are few fans of Edgar Wright who wouldn’t salivate at the prospect of The World’s End and Hot Fuzz Director taking on another much-loved series of tropes, in this case, the heist movie. Lumbering between the traditional trappings of the genre and the subversive stylings that propelled his previous outings to cult status, Baby Driver, if thoroughly enjoyable, never quite settles on whether it wants to be a laugh-a-thon at the expense of all else ala Shaun of the Dead or a more traditional comedy-drama that it’s Director would otherwise lampoon.
Baby Driver’s strongest asset, no doubt a feature of Wright’s previous features but more evidently on display here, is it’s deftly established and frenetically diverse cast of characters. Baby, the crew’s driver (Ansel Elgort) is only one of a number with hazy motives amongst an eclectic mix of very willing lawbreakers including Jon Bernthal’s ‘Griff,’ Jamie Foxx’s ‘Bats,’ Eiza Gonzalez’ ‘Darling’ and Jon Hamm’s ‘Buddy,’ the latter clearly having no end of fun breaking away from his Mad Men image into, dare I say it, hammier roles.
The talented Lily James, while sharing a palpable on-screen romance with Elgort’s Baby otherwise has to contend with a largely one-note character, an exception to the cavalcade of roundly imperceptible personalities towered over by ringleader Doc (Kevin Spacey), here combining his trademark malevolence with Spacey’s lesser-evidenced black humour better than in any of his recent roles.
Above all, it’s the action sequences that stand out – replete with a spectacular running soundtrack duly timed to the beats and blasts of several high-octane confrontations (with a special treat for all the Queen fans out there) that will content any Wright fan in the Director’s most dutiful stylistic nods to the Cornetto trilogy. The sparing moments where music isn’t playing conversely creates a resonating tension, permeating some of the film’s most striking moments. Stunts early-on as Baby takes the wheel are joyously breathless, as is the later and surprising addition of a foot-chase, though it’s from this point that Baby Driver largely descends into the pitfalls of the genre it otherwise did and could roundly have caricatured.
The overarching plot is sparsely divergent from other heist fare, the additions of a redemption narrative, a romantic undercurrent and having to get ‘square’ no match for the rollicking thrill of seeing an 8-year-old case out a joint and the few of Wright’s touches that in spite of the film’s familiar shortcomings nevertheless set it apart as one of his own.
The later sequences, including a final chase which altogether neglects to deride the predictable setting in the style one might expect from the British Director, are largely forgettable and indistinguishable from that which Wright clearly drew inspiration but largely shies away from pillorying, boasting none of the resplendent stunts that characterised Baby’s earliest rides.
Here, unlike in so many of Wright’s previous efforts, characters summarily come to gruesome if slightly more realistic ends given the circumstances, bar one jarring exception. The addition of a figure who at least in the second and third acts appears to have superhuman strength more akin to those who once jaunted through Wright’s English countrysides may be a joy to watch, but when one foot is in the door of the Director’s unique sensibilities and the other in much more traditional territory, the effect renders the film irretrievably uneven.
An ending, or more accurately epilogue of sorts, very quickly wraps things up in a way that despite best efforts is pointedly unsatisfying for its gaping tonal inconsistency to all that came before, whereas even an audience unaccustomed to Wright’s earlier works would have been happy with the type of ironic button which best served his previous triumphs.
While it is perhaps unfair to compare the heist thriller to its thematic predecessors, to which it is still a cut above, or even Wright’s earlier projects, Baby Driver owes no small amount to the stylistic flourishes of the latter with which the Director attempted to fuse the rotes of action-thrillers, occasionally stumbling but ever so often riding that line to thrilling effect.
Baby Driver is in cinemas on July 13