Saturday, July 22, 2017

New, Spoiler-Free Release! Baby Driver (2017)

Director: Edgar Wright

Fun and very well-made in many ways, but a bit disappointing, given Wright's track record and the degree of hype around the movie.

I am a dedicated fan of Edgar Wright. I've loved all of his four previous feature movies, especially World's End and Hot Fuzz. This, coupled with the fact that Baby Driver received a highly impressive average score of 8.1/10 from over 200 critics, according to the aggregate site Rotten Tomatoes, and I was ready for a truly mind-blowing experience. It wasn't quite that.

The movie follows the titular "Baby," a tall, lanky young man who is a preternaturally skilled driver. He uses his ability as a wheel man, helping robbers get away from the scenes of their crimes. We learn that this is hardly by his own desire; rather, it is to pay off a debt to Doc (Kevin Spacey), the intimidating mastermind who plans the various heists. For each job, Doc assembles a slightly different four-person crew, with Baby being the only permanent fixture due to his reliability as a wheel man. The other crew members are often volatile and even homicidal, though Baby manages to keep his distance by remaining as quiet and detached as possible. When Baby manages to completely pay off his debt to Doc, the timing could hardly be better, as he has just met a beautiful young woman, Deborah (Lily James), and hopes to have a future with her. Unfortunately, Doc quickly calls on Baby again, informing him that he has no real intention of allowing Baby any kind of real freedom. Baby must then figure some way out of the criminal life for good. This is made considerably more difficult when a weapons deal goes horribly wrong, leaving multiple dead cops in the wake of Baby and his criminal associates.

The movie has all of the brisk pacing and well-choreographed action that a fan of such movies could ask for. The movie begins with a frantic car chase and continues to offer similar fare at several points throughout the film, including the crash-bang finale. The movie is also stocked with wild, dangerous characters, played by high-quality actors like Spacey, Jon Hamm, Jamie Foxx, Jon Berenthal, and several others. Plenty of bullets fly, blood is spilled, and hard stares given, all to a moving, energetic soundtrack. It certainly does make for more than a little fun.

Baby (left) looks with well-founded skepticism on his criminal
cohorts: Bats, Darling, and Buddy. Though the performances
are strong, the script doesn't always pack the intended punch.
All the same, there is a surprising shallowness to many of the proceedings. Perhaps this shouldn't come as a great surprise to me, given that Wright's feature films and even TV shows have often been goofy, though very clever, parodies of his beloved genres of science-fiction, fantasy, and action films. With Baby Driver, he did seem to making an honest attempt at characters and relationships that were more touching and sincere than anything he has done before. Though he almost hits the mark a few times, the attempts at evoking any genuine sympathy or empathy for even Baby and his lady love Deborah never completely sparked for me. Baby is curious and likeable, to be sure, but other aspects of the film drown out what could have been more feeling for him.

One of those aspects is the amount of collateral damage during the latter half of the movie. Without giving anything away, I'll simply state that bodies start dropping. Quickly. By the end of the movie, you'll almost certainly have lost count. This is fine, and often even standard, for such high-speed action flicks. In Baby Driver, however, it ends up in discord with what I believe was the intended tone for the resolution of the movie. I got the sense that Wright wanted us to feel one way about it, but that feeling was either highly diluted or completely washed away by what had transpired during the preceding 30 minutes.

One could also pick a few bones upon close inspection of certain details pertaining to the characters. Maybe I'm just an overly sensitive, PC type, but I was a little perturbed by the fact that the craziest, most bloodthirsty character happened to be the African-American, Bats (Jamie Foxx). While every other robber teamed with Baby shows a certain level of professionalism and respect for human life, Bats very quickly falls into nearly every negative stereotype of African-American men. He's brash, profane, arrogant, and kills indiscriminately. It's not that I think a character like this can't be black; it's just that I think when he's the clearly the most heinous in a large cast, it needs to be handled with care. Care which I don't think Wright took enough of.

Going into the theater, I was truly expecting to be dazzled by a movie that I would be dying to watch over and over, as I have been with Wright's other movies. It was certainly fun, and worth seeing on the big screen, but I don't know when, or even if, I'll feel a desire to see it again. And for what is supposed to be a fun, clever action movie, that's not a litmus test one wants to fail.