Baby Driver (Ansel Elgort), as he is nicknamed, is a getaway driver by trade, thanks to an early encounter with Doc (Kevin Spacey), a criminal mastermind who recruited him to carry out jobs for him. Baby is not someone who mixes well with people, but does have an incredible talent behind the wheel which Doc puts to good, if illegal, use, as today when a three person gang who have pulled of a bank robbery find out, their vehicle weaving through the streets with the cops in hot pursuit, and a mixture of skill and sheer luck prove to their benefit as Baby manages to get them and their ill-gotten gains back to the meeting point in Doc's warehouse. But he doesn't really care about the profit he makes: what he wants is out of this deal.
Edgar Wright had been planning this film since the early-to-mid-nineties, and as evidence of that the opening action scene was played out to the sound of Bell Bottoms by The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, a song that at the time had every film student and movie buff thinking, man, this would be great in a movie. They got their wish twenty-three years later as the gimmick here was the lead character drowning out his tinnitus with music on a selection of vintage mp3 players, which gave Wright the excuse to use as many tunes as he possibly could, and choreograph the actors and any moveable objects in the scenes to the beat of the soundtrack. This was a good idea, something new for the musical genre: mix it with the action thriller format.
Yet somehow you might wish, on experiencing the results, that he had gone further. There's a difference between Mr Blonde grooving to Steeler's Wheel in Reservoir Dogs and an advert for low calorie ready meals that blares James Brown doing I Feel Good, and Baby Driver, while it strained for cool, veered wildly between both, sometimes achieving what Wright had developed for his vision as a dreamer thinking up his pet projects, and at other times serving up a dish of purest cheese. This was fine as far as that went, if you can't appreciate the cheese then you won't be getting on with any cinema other than the most rarefied arthouse drama, but the potential was there to dispense with the dialogue and truly commit to telling the story through vintage songs, much as Dennis Potter's television series had done.
This did not go to that place, but when Wright got around to the action scenes where Baby was indeed driving (or doing his Run Lola Run impersonation away from the police), the piece was at its most fully realised, as a silent movie with a jukebox - or mixtape - score. Elgort was curious casting, not looking the part and curiously muted throughout, fair enough Baby is meant to be an alienated soul who finds his solace in tunes, but he had little chemistry with his fellow, highly qualified cast members, not just Spacey but Jamie Foxx as an argumentative career robber who has no qualms about gunning down anyone in his way, or Jon Hamm as the ostensible nice guy on the team who is not present because he lacks a nasty streak, far from it. But the real gem in casting was the cliché love interest, waitress Deborah.
This was a thankless role, the totem to persuade the hero to give up his life of crime before, with fast-approaching and crushing inevitability, he is forced to kill someone, thus making a mockery of his faith in his essential morality. Yet Lily James imbued the character with a genuine personality, not some fantasy dream girl who would make everything all right in the end (though arguably that was ultimately what she became), but someone struggling to get by in a crappy job who makes a connection with a regular and winds up over her head in trouble. While the subdued Elgort was making little of their relationship, James was doing a lot of emotional heavy lifting as she took a nothing part and sprinkled a little stardust over it. Yet as Wright proved in the precedent he made for Baby Driver, this had a music video heart, and while it had been some time since the directors of those were criticised for getting into the movie business, a feature that truly committed to delivering a two-hour pop video would have been a sight to see. This only went so far, stylish but too keen to solely pay tribute to the car chase movies of the past.
[Sony's Blu-ray looks and sounds predictably excellent, and these are the multiple extras:
That's My Baby: Edgar Wright featurette
I Need A Killer Track: The Music featurette
Devil Behind The Wheel: The Car Chases featurette
Meet Your New Crew: Doc's Gang featurette
Commentary with Edgar Wright & Bill Pope
Mint Royale "Blue Song" Music Video
Over 20 minutes of Deleted and Extended Scenes (Exclusive to Blu-ray)
Mozart In A Go-Kart: Ansel Drives featurette (Exclusive to Blu-ray)
Find Something Funky on There: The Choreography featurette (Exclusive to Blu-ray)
Animatics featurette (Exclusive to Blu-ray)
Complete Storyboard Gallery (Exclusive to Blu-ray)