Baby Driver (2017)

Rating: ***
Review Date: 7/1/17
Director: Edgar Wright
Cast: Ansel Elgort, Jon Hamm, Eiza Gonzalez, Lily James, Jamie Foxx, Kevin Spacey, Paul Williams

Baby (Ansel Elgort) is an extremely talented driver, but he requires music in order to drive. A traumatic accident and unfortunate circumstances force him to pay off a debt by working for a nasty crime boss named Doc (Kevin Spacey), who has no intentions of letting him off the hook. Things get super complicated for Baby when he meets the girl of his dreams (Lily James) and ends up working on a doomed heist with a completely unhinged killer named Bats (Jamie Foxx). He and Deborah make a desperate run for freedom, but will they make it?

It's a stylish action romance fuelled by high octane adolescent wish fulfillment, that romanticizes violence in a way that's reminiscent of "True Romance" (1993). While the characters are annoyingly unpleasant and the story is overly cliché, the action scenes are exciting and the camera work is astounding. When I stopped paying attention to the story and started paying attention to the cinematography instead, the film became much more enjoyable. The car chases are incredible, and there's a highly satisfying foot chase as well. Ansel Elgort gives a solid and sympathetic performance, but I didn't like his character and he failed to connect with me. He finds a bit of a kindred spirit in a criminal named Buddy (Jon Hamm), which provides some good dramatic tension. Jamie Foxx gives an impressively psychotic performance as a menacing and unpredictable thug, while a quirky and uptight Kevin Spacey orchestrates everything with heartless precision in the background.

While the film relies heavily on testosterone soaked action and masculine posturing, the two biggest standouts are Lily James and Eiza Gonzalez. Lily James is the perfect embodiment of the fantasy girl next door - cute, sweet, playful, flirty, and irresistibly charming. You simply can't take your eyes off of her. But the impossibly beautiful Eiza Gonzalez is even more devastating. She's the moral opposite of Lily's "good girl" character, and is a deliciously poisonous femme fatale. She's also the chink in Buddy's armor, which becomes a big problem for Baby.

A major part of the film is its eclectic soundtrack, and the action is paced perfectly to it. The characters walk in time with the music, and sound effects and gunshots fall on the beat to great effect. There are several very impressive long handheld shots that are seamlessly fluid, and so subtle that you might not even notice if you're not paying attention. There's also a great reflection shot that is completely unexpected, which does a fantastic job of hiding the camera (although I suspect this was handled in post). It's shocking because it's exactly the kind of shot that filmmakers go out of their way to avoid.

Even though the film is exciting and superbly crafted, I didn't particularly enjoy it due to the unlikable characters and awkward dialog. The film was marketed as an action comedy, but the humor doesn't work at all. That said, the audience consistently laughed throughout the film, which means that a good number of people apparently thought it was funny. The biggest drawback to a "style over substance" approach is that if you don't like the style, then you're not going to like the movie, and I feel like I fell into that category. Your mileage will vary based on how much you can relate to the characters, the music, and the offbeat humor.