sun 20/08/2017

Baby Driver review - thrill-ride runs out of road | reviews, news & interviews

Baby Driver review - thrill-ride runs out of road

Baby Driver review - thrill-ride runs out of road

Edgar Wright's rock'n'roll car-chase is a classic till it crashes

The gang's all here: Baby (Ansel Elgort), Bats (Jamie Foxx), Darling (Eiza Gonzalez) and Buddy (Jon Hamm)

Baby drives like a deranged bullet. Edgar Wright’s “diegetic action-musical” choreographs the bank-heist getaways of angel-faced Baby (Ansel Elgort) as physically exhilarating pure cinema, a rush that’s rare. It’s also pure, adrenalin-pumping rock’n’roll, a combination built into the plot: Baby can only drive so long as his tinnitus-drowning cassette mix-tapes play, giving him the rhythm and focus he needs. Doc (a lugubrious Kevin Spacey) is the boss he owes, who keeps his pedal reluctantly to the metal, never quite reaching the promised last job, and forced to work with increasingly violent gangs of colourful loose cannons.

Baby is essentially a superhero, with an origin story in which he’s tragically orphaned, and recompensed with the power to drive with unnatural agility, so long as the right music plays. A small scar on his innocent face denotes his wounded past. He even has a girlfriend, diner waitress Deborah (Downton’s Lily James, pictured below with Ansel Elgort, as a down-home Southern belle), whom he has to protect from his dangerous, secret double-life. Baby’s deaf-mute old stepdad Joseph (CJ Jones) is his version of Peter Parker’s Aunt May. While Edgar Wright’s cherished version of Ant-Man is lost, it’s unlikely to have matched this as a cinephile’s personal vision.

Deborah (Lily James) and Baby (Ansel Elgort) in Baby DriverWright, his choreographer and editors worked like a post-Tarantino Busby Berkeley, as the cast moved on-set to music from Queen to the Damned to “The Harlem Shuffle”, every action synced to sound. When Baby turns on the gang, he’s forced into an explosively violent foot-chase scored to the epic 1970 yodel-prog madness of “Hocus Pocus” by Focus, lifting me out of my seat like long-ago, visceral highs such as John Woo’s Face/Off, or Peckinpah’s The Wild Bunch (I’m thinking of its opening scene, another bank-job gone wrong). A song hasn’t discovered such an unlikely purpose in life since a policeman’s ear was sliced to “Stuck in the Middle with You”.

Wright’s casting also has the Tarantino touch (and in Jamie Foxx, a Tarantino actor). Jon Hamm (pictured below with Elgort) is greasy, raddled and gruff as ex-stockbroker psychopath Buddy, decent to Baby till he’s riled, then a lupine threat. Foxx piles into playing an irredeemably vicious, hip-hop cartoon villain. And down the cast-list, there are cameos for De Palma’s Phantom of the Paradise music biz leech Paul Williams, old master of streamlined action flicks such as The Driver Walter Hill, and the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ Flea, as Eddie No-Nose, “formerly Eddie the Nose” (what happened? “That’s a No. 1 No-Nose no-no”).

Buddy (Jon Hamm) and Baby (Ansel Elgort) in Baby DriverThis film’s deliberately constant sound is its vision, balanced by an eventual moment of quiet when Baby and Deborah fall in love, and her hand audibly scrapes the back of his neck. Several scenes are five-star masterpieces, not quite like anything before. And yet Baby Driver runs out of road. Its final reel is often redundant and aimless. Wright also stops believing in his characters, who deteriorate from full-blooded, witty archetypes to hollow clichés, the feeling draining away. The director’s mix-tape loses its touch, and his hand leaves the wheel. Some of this film is a classic, and some of it’s heartlessly superficial. Wright’s obsessive cinephilia fuels both.

Several scenes are five-star masterpieces, not quite like anything before

rating

Editor Rating: 
4
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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