The rush to anoint Baby Driver as The Next Cool Thing ™ is as confusing as it is wrong. Almost immediately, Baby (Ansel Elgort), who looks like “Not All Men” made flesh, begins frat-boy shimmying past wall graffiti that contains lyrics from the song that’s playing. Seemingly possessed by the ghost of Joseph Gordon-Levitt—he is dead, right?—with somehow even less authenticity, Baby and the world around him appears designed by a 15-year-old who thinks he’s the first person to ever see Reservoir Dogs. Everything in the first hour of Baby Driver is so cringe-worthy in its need for affection, so rabidly yearning to be hip, it is often physically uncomfortable. Then writer/director Edgar Wright snaps out of it with a final hour of mayhem that either saves the first half or makes it worse.
Nothing in the setup of Baby Driver approaches the city limits of clever. Postcards sent from clever wouldn’t reach Baby Driver for a calendar year. Doc (Kevin Spacey) is a super bad baddie guy who is forcing Baby to drive getaway for a rotating squad of bank robbers sporting violently on-the-nose nicknames. Most notably there’s Buddy (Jon Hamm), who seems friendly but is hella dangerous; Darling (Eiza González), who is beautiful but deadly; and Bats (Jamie Foxx), who is batty. Get it?!
Baby falls in love with Debora (Lily James), a Waitress With Big Dreams™, and desperately wants to Leave a Life of Crime™ but needs to finish One Last Job™, only to find They Keep Pulling Him Back In™. Afflicted with a terrible medical gimmick, Baby constantly listens to music to drown out his tinnitus, explaining the shoehorning of the soundtrack into the film’s dialogue and plot. All of this is not cute and not fun. Then the movie flips a switch, becoming hyper-violent and mesmerizing and delivering on the promise inherent in seeing an Edgar Wright action movie.
Obviously, Wright chose a canvas of clichés on purpose, opting to flop his flair across a shallow narrative, not unlike how most musicals operate. Maybe that works if Baby had personality or charm, but he explicitly does not. He’s near-mute, has exactly one discernable interest and is given credit for having a “big heart” when he simply appears to be a somewhat decent human being. His whole character screams of “Tell me I’m a special boy!” white dude nonsense. The idea Debora would be even marginally interested in this human nothingburger is the least plausible thing in a movie where Jon Hamm is physically indestructible.
The music, which is just okay, isn’t immersive but obtrusive. The supporting cast, most notably Spacey, is confined to the fringes while we watch Baby do crap like remix spoken words into a shitty dance track. And yet, that last hour is so flawless… Wright clearly intended to leverage a sweet, whimsical opening half into a tense finale but all he actually did was make one half of a great film. By the time Baby Driver becomes cool, it is too late to be as cool as it assumed it always was. The end result is a slightly-above-average mixed bag that everyone will overpraise for a few weeks and then largely forget about.
Grade = B-