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Monday, July 3, 2017

Baby Driver



"How great would it be if your driving brought joy to people's lives?" signs Baby's adoptive father before Baby complies with his wishes and gets a job delivering pizzas. Writer-director Edgar Wright accepts his own challenge with Baby Driver, a breakneck, blisteringly inventive joyride where Wright heists the car heist movie genre and makes it his own. In Baby Driver, Ansel Elgort stars as the titular character, a young wunderkind wheelman for mastermind Kevin Spacey. A car accident that ophaned young Elgort left him with tinnitus; a permanent ringing in his ears, which he subsumes with music from a fleet of iPods in his collection. (Baby Driver is, like James Gunn's Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, fueled to its benefit by the director's personal music collection.) Behind the wheel, Baby is good enough to join Vin Diesel's Fast and the Furious family, and he just might if the Fast Fam ever pulled a heist in Atlanta.

Baby is a curious creature who provokes repeated explanation for the bank robbers he carts around, including Jon Bernthal, Flea, Eiza Gonzalez, and Jon Hamm. Wright nigh-overdoses on style early on, with a frankly unbelievable opening car chase followed by a triumphant Elgort dancing around the city streets, as if performing in a personal musical. Thankfully, necessary gravitas is provided by Jamie Foxx, a steely powder keg of violence who doesn't like or trust Elgort. He doesn't like or trust anyone, actually, but Elgort especially rankles him, no matter how much anyone vouches for him. Elgort himself is in Spacey's thrall and working off a debt; one last job doesn't ever mean one last job in the world of crime, which Elgort learns to his chagrin.

It turns out Elgort has a lot to protect, and not just his secret hobby of recording everyone he meets and remixing their voices. He has an aforementioned deaf elderly foster father, and he has a girl he loves, Lily James, the lovely waitress at his favorite diner, though this is a curiously chaste love affair; not quite the sexually charged relationship Christian Slater and Patricia Arquette had in True Romance. James is a conveniently free spirit; she's unattached and dreams of a future that's an endless road trip of adventure. It's a happy coincidence she meets just the right Baby Driver, but also unfortunate that despite his best efforts to shield her from the nature of his work ("You chauffeur important people?"), especially when Foxx suspects just why Elgort is so resistant to pull over at that particular diner, the bad people in Baby's lives come right to her table and order four Cokes.

Wright pulls off a neat trick of creating sympathy for a lead who's monosyllabic and seemingly impenetrable. Baby might be a gifted getaway driver ensconced in a life of crime, but he's got a streak of compassion running through him. Foxx and Hamm (each with a surname containing an extra consonant) take bravura turns as the heavy of the piece, each having a serious bone to pick with Baby, but the kid is good and ends up being too good for them. There's a moment, during a deadly car chase and shoot out with Hamm in a parking garage, where Baby pulls the lever on James' seat, putting it all the way to recline so that Hamm's bullets miss her. With that one heroic move, any lingering doubt as to the quality of Baby's character dissipates. This kid has style - beyond how his black and white jacket is an obvious ode to Han Solo - and he's worth rooting for. That goes double for Wright, who, after cult sensations Shawn of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, and Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World, finally has a breakthrough film that should propel his long-admired talent to the Hollywood big leagues. Wright should gun the engine and never look back.