Now that’s what an Edgar Wright movie looks like.
Back in full control of a film for the first time his banishment from Ant-Man, the British writer-director of Hot Fuzz and Scott Pilgrim vs. the World flexes his skills to full effect on Baby Driver, a thoroughly entertaining and well-balanced mesh of action, comedy and music.
The biggest accomplishment for his debut U.S.-set film, however, may be wrangling career-best likability from perennial sourpuss Ansel Elgort as the titular getaway driver. While the actor’s range remains limited, portraying a talented wheelman who plays music through one of his many iPods to combat the ringing in his ears from a childhood car accident is an assignment he handles well — though it’s clear Wright is the one making him look good.
Truly, almost any performer could incite ear-to-ear grins by lip-synching to Jon Spencer Blues Explosion’s “Bellbottoms” while waiting for Griff (Jon Bernthal), Darling (Eiza González) and Buddy (Jon Hamm, finally cast against type) to pull off an Atlanta bank heist and return to the sedan.
Baby’s charms increase as he taps on the steering wheel and flicks the windshield wipers in time with the song, introducing the overarching concept of his digital playlist lining up with his actions and those around him, one that thankfully refrains from feeling gimmicky.
Wright’s combination of fluid, long-take camerawork and pinpoint editing do justice to a smartly-curated soundtrack — ranging from Dave Brubeck to Queen to Young MC — and instead of being a movie-length version of the street sound symphony opening of Love Me Tonight, the synchronicity appears frequently yet tastefully, remaining a welcome detail without growing tedious.
Lampooning the “one last job” cliché to great effect, Baby Driver nonetheless gets itself in trouble with the occasional clumsy gangster line and and criminal underworld posing. These missteps might not be quite so glaring without a downright terrifying Jamie Foxx as homicide-happy Bats, the film’s wicked cool entry point to some unexpectedly harsh violence that’s decidedly (and intentionally) not funny.
Of course, this being a Wright film, there are plenty of laughs courtesy of his usual diverse sources, including Baby’s original compositions made in his home music studio — utilizing praiseworthy dialogue from his employer Doc (Kevin Spacey) and awestruck lawbreaking colleagues won over by his four-wheeled maneuvering — and communications with his deaf foster parent Joseph (CJ Jones).
Any one of these above assets would be grounds for a successful genre film, but the juggling of Baby Driver’s humor and choreography with its gritty elements, cleanly shot urban car chases and even a decent romantic subplot between Baby and likeminded diner waitress Debora (Lily James) sets this remarkable work far apart from its summer competition.
Grade: A-minus. Rated R. Now playing at AMC Classic, Biltmore Grande and Carolina Cinemark
(Photo: Columbia Pictures)