After the first three minutes of Baby Driver, the theater was full of laughter and the bobbing silhouettes of viewers dancing along. It was also full of the smell of perfume and deodorant: many viewers had broken a sweat in the first few careening minutes.
Baby Driver is a heist movie, a comedy, a romance, and a star-studded summer blockbuster. The titular Baby (Ansel Elgort) is the—you guessed it—baby-faced getaway driver for an ever-shifting crew of thieves, under the orchestration of Doc (Kevin Spacey, delivering President Underwood-lite realness). The crew also includes Buddy (Jon Hamm) and Darling (Eiza González), an overly-PDA Bonnie and Clyde duo framed as dual eye-candy on screen. Then there’s Bats (Jamie Foxx), the crimson-clad loose cannon of the group. Meanwhile, on the side of law and order, Lily James appears as Baby’s open-hearted waitress crush, drawn into the fray by coincidence. Then there’s CJ Jones as Baby’s aging foster father, whom Baby cares for: Joe is deaf and wheelchair-bound and sometimes deeply unappreciative of Baby’s life choices, especially when it comes to being a getaway driver. Baby too has an auditory condition; resulting from a childhood accident, he hears a loud, painful ringing in his ears that he plays music constantly to drown out, and that music becomes the pulsing backdrop for the whole film.
The whole of Baby Driver has a beat to it: it’s hard to recall a movie that matched its editing and acting so beat-for-beat, and a movie for which that tight attention to detail paid off as well. Through a huge rush of high-adrenaline action sequences, that danceable tempo transitions just as well to dialogue sequences—especially those between Baby and Joe in ASL—and director Edgar Wright’s signature quick-cuts, where small actions are repeated to draw the audience into a sense of rapid, tangible routine. In short, it’s an expertly crafted movie, as technically masterful as anyone could have expected from tongue-in-cheek auteur Wright.
Director Edgar Wright sets a high bar, and he then goes on to create movies that are both above that bar and difficult to measure by any other standard. Baby Driver has already been called genre-smashing and original. Wright, coming off of his uproarious Three Flavours Cornetto trilogy, beginning in 2004 with Shaun of the Dead and ending in 2013 with The World’s End, discards both the in-your-face British humor of the trilogy along with its recurring stars—Simon Pegg, Nira Park, and Nick Frost. Baby Driver is entirely closer to earth, although it does trade in on some of Wright’s signature humor (ie circular conversations, stating the obvious for laughs, and using quotes from Monsters Inc in life-and-death negotiations). But the movie at its core isn’t a comedy: it’s simply an inventive and fascinating thriller with fantastic performances all around.
However, while the whole package gleams, some of Wright’s plays on heist-movie tropes don’t get the punchline they were aiming for. Darling, the only Latina in the cast, is an ex-lap dancer whose role from scene to scene is to droop herself sexily across Jon Hamm’s shoulders. Jamie Foxx, one of two black characters, is a die-hard, gun-happy, violence-driven criminal whose character is defined by his unpredictable and spontaneous trigger finger. Where the typing is obvious, how Wright plays on them is difficult sometimes to justify, particularly because the writer/director doesn’t go very far at all with playing away from those tropes. For the director behind such brilliant twists-on-the-usual cop thriller (Hot Fuzz) and horror movie (Shaun of the Dead), the more low-key humor in Baby Driver makes the parody more muted as well, and perhaps not as effective.