I’ve seen Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, and The World’s End all about 20 times each, and given that I think that they’re all virtually perfect movies that illustrate everything that I love about film as an art form, it’s without a doubt that Edgar Wright is my favorite director working today. The aforementioned films are all some of my all-time favorite films—they were all polished to the nth degree on character, script, direction, and originality levels. Baby Driver is… not so much. It has the breezy humor that I love Wright for, but it lacks the subversive punch and level of tongue-in-cheek energy that he does so well. It has a great cast with everyone throwing themselves into their roles and each character being enjoyable to watch, but they still feel underdeveloped both in their own rights and in relation to each other. It has more depth than most recent movies, but it’s easily the shallowest of all of Wright’s films. But it’s still fun and funny and well paced. But it can still be called a disappointment.
Filmed in and set in Atlanta, making it Wright’s first movie shot in or set in the United States, it follows a young orphan getaway driver of prodigy-like talents called Baby (Ansel Elgort) who works for Doc (Kevin Spacey), the head of a team of bank robbers comprised of Buddy (Jon Hamm), his girlfriend Darling (Eiza González), Griff (Jon Bernthal), the unpredictable Bats (Jamie Foxx), and Eddie (Flea of the Red Hot Chili Peppers). Baby looks after his elderly, mute foster dad Joseph (CJ Jones) and, after falling for a diner waitress named Deb (Lily James), he wants to get out of this business, but as these things usually go, his boss needs him to do one last job, leading Baby to try to sabotage them and escape.
Let’s look at the positives first, which without a doubt outweigh the negatives. Firstly, a movie about a driver with tinnitus who constantly listens to music and plans his heist work around his own life’s soundtrack sounds like something right up Wright’s alley, and that’s because it is. Music has become increasingly important to the style of his work both in subtle ways and manners that are proudly in your face, fitting each scene to a tee. Here he flexes those muscles again, orchestrating the action to the soundtrack and using it to help the editing and pacing, both of which are very good. A shootout choreographed to “Tequila” makes it clear that Wright still knows what he’s doing, and that makes for an entertaining viewing—that much is without a shadow of a doubt.
Similarly, he gets very good performances for the most part, namely from the supporting cast. Spacey’s deadpan schtick and Foxx’s unhinged insanity, along with a pretty good use of Elgort—who can be pretty stiff—and the charm that James brings to a character that the script mostly has as just a damsel help distract from the script issues. It’s shot by Bill Pope, who worked with Wright on Scott Pilgrim and later The World’s End, and each scene has a fluid progression to it, namely a lengthy tracking shot towards the beginning. When placed with the soundtrack, it’s a movie that you can dance to at times, the film itself feeling like a song. Other traits normally associated to Wright’s work are also present here, albeit to lesser degrees, which is where the undercurrent of disappointment stems from.
Firstly, the humor here works, but there isn’t nearly enough of it. It’s clear that an onslaught of jokes wasn’t his intention here, but the dramatic aspects of the script are undercooked. Baby’s attraction to Deb feels like more of a plot device than true human behavior—his sign language-fueled relationship with his foster father is more appealing. There’s one scene in which Baby and Deb discuss music and germ of the idea regarding their emotional attachment to each other is visible, but that idea hasn’t germinated into a plant. It’s still closer to a seed budding out of the ground. Deb doesn’t have much to do, and there isn’t much of an ironic approach or unique take on what is a familiar “one last job” story.
Jon Hamm is pretty underused and Flea felt like an extraneous cast member as did Jon Bernthal—cutting them out would have allowed for more focus on characters that were more pivotal to the story. Despite the fun and sure-fire nature of so much of it, it feels muted. Wright and Simon Pegg took a British approach to an American genre with Shaun of the Dead, and it’s clear that Wright is trying to take a similar approach to Americana culture with Baby Driver as is made very clear by a few scenes and settings as well as the mood lent to the movie by some of the song choices, but it’s as if the script didn’t go through enough passes before the production stage began.
I’m not sure if was Sony and TriStar that were trying to make something a little bit more accessible, but it feels a little bit more generic than what one would have hoped for. It’s a great thing that Wright is so damn talented, since even such a noticeable slip in quality can still place him within the B range while a majority of most movies that I’ve seen so far this year are in the C range or well below that, but this could have been better. It has what you want from it, but not really enough. It’s Edgar Wright lite. It’s Edgar Lite. At least it’s not Edgar Wrong.