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Baby Driver

There’s this baby-faced young man who in fact goes by the handle of Baby (Ansel Elgort, who impressed me as Tommy Ross in the CARRIE remake) and he’s a whiz kid of a getaway driver for armed robberies. He loves listening to music, and uses his favorite songs to inspire and time his driving, which is spectacular. He can maneuver and slide and spin and he is living proof that not everybody followed the disclaimer at the end of TOKYO DRIFT.

(He would’ve been about twelve when it came out, and surely influenced by it during his driver’s exam.)

Some have described this is a musical, which makes some sense. At times it feels like a movie based on the current trailer fad of editing gunshots and other sound effects as percussion playing along with the music.

After they get away, when the gang meets up to split the money, they make Baby go buy the coffee. Here’s one thing they carefully edited out of the trailers: he’s a total dork. In the car, but also at home, or walking in public, he listens to his earbuds and sings along and does little dance moves and shit. The whole walk to and from the coffee shop he seems like he’s on the verge of busting into a full on SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN number. I wonder if they considered casting Moose from the STEP UP sequels in this.

The people he’s driving, being tough guys as well as grown adults, do not necessarily understand this kid’s eccentricities, or like hanging around him. Griff (Jon Bernthal, FURY, SNITCH) thinks he’s “a retard” and picks on him like a schoolyard bully. In truth, Baby was in a car accident as a child that gave him tinnitus, and uses the music to drown it out. Also maybe the accident gave him superhuman aloofness, I don’t know. But he sits in his sunglasses listening to music and air-keyboarding like he’s off somewhere else and still has total recall of the elaborate plans laid out by their boss Doc (Kevin Spacey, SUPERMAN RETURNS).

Eventually we learn how he got this unlikely job, and it involves him being in debt to Doc. Only one more job and they’re even, he says. We don’t fucking trust him.

Around this time Baby also falls for a cute diner waitress named Debora (Lily James, WRATH OF THE TITANS, PRIDE AND PREJUDICE AND ZOMBIES). It seems like she’s immediately head-over-heels with him, but I think this is exacerbated by the fact that she calls him by his name alot. They have a cute, giggly flirtation and talk about songs with their names in them. Baby has everyone beat on that and it’s a fun gimmick that these songs will show up on the soundtrack. Martha and the Vandellas singing “There’s nowhere to run to, baby, nowhere to hide” suddenly becomes ominous.

Oh wow – and come to think of it they never use “Baby You Can Drive My Car.” Respect!

The soundtrack is pretty good and eclectic, anchored by lots of old soul songs. For my tastes they coulda started with more of a knockout than John Spenser Blues Explosion, but people seem to like that one. I noticed a tendency toward recordings that have been famously sampled – you think it’s the intro to “Jump Around” but it’s actually “Harlem Shuffle,” you think it’s “The Next Episode” but it goes into “The Edge.” In both cases, I have to admit, I’m a little disappointed when it doesn’t go into the hip hop song. David Axelrod is great, but his song doesn’t get my blood pumping the way Dre’s version does. Let’s listen:

As long as I have completely derailed the review to sit and play records let me tell you about a concert moment that gave me chills. In 2000 I went to The Up In Smoke Tour, a big stadium show with Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg together as the headliners, and they opened with “The Next Episode.” I was hoping they would, and it made for perfect showmanship because the Tacoma Dome is dark and that dramatic intro plays and the crowd is screaming and suddenly big lanky Snoop is hopping out singing that “da da da da da” and introducing himself and Dre by name. And a minute later I’m thinking wait a minute, I wonder if Nate Dogg is actually gonna be here? Then all the sudden the door on the fake liquor store facade on stage swings open and indeed Nate Dogg struts out exactly in time to sing:

Sometimes it works to give the audience exactly what they want. But BABY DRIVER’s sample-sourcing is still fun and I believe intentional because I noticed they used “Kashmere” by the legendary high school funk band Kashmere Stage Band (see the documentary THUNDER SOUL for more info) and a little later we hear Handsome Boy Modeling School sampling it in “Holy Calamity (Bear Witness II).” Apparently there’s also a new Dangermouse song in there that samples the John Spencer song, but I didn’t pick up on that.

Baby stockpiles old beat-up iPods to store all his playlists. Remember when BLADE: TRINITY had a character who listens to an iPod during vampire slaying, and it seemed corny because it was so new  – now they’re almost obsolete because of the way people use their phones! But in case that’s not nostalgic enough equipment for you writer-director Edgar Wright (HOT FUZZ) is happy to give him analog equipment as well. Baby has a collection of audio tapes, and one has an emotional meaning to him oddly similar to the one that drives the GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY movies. More original is his odd habit of recording conversations and sampling them in weird little songs (actually created by Kid Koala). This makes for a criminal dilemma I’ve never seen before: having to convince the crew that yes, he made recordings of them but he’s not a rat, he’s just a weirdo.

Have you noticed the movie cliche that flashbacks to happier times, before your spouse/parent/kid died, look like blown out Super-8 home movies? I thought it was interesting that Baby’s memories have a definite ’70s/’80s look to the clothes, hair, car and cinematography, even though they’ve gotta be taking place in the early 2000s, as acknowledged by his use of an iPod. I picture Wright setting the scene up with more historical accuracy, seeing how not-old it looks and saying “fuck it, just make it look like 1979. Childhood memories look like 1979.” And I don’t disagree.

Doc believes in rotating his crews for each heist. Nice to see Flea in there briefly. For the main heist Doc brings in Bats (Jamie Foxx, MIAMI VICE, STEALTH), a guy who brags about how crazy he is. Foxx is very good and menacing as sort of the Mr. Blonde of the crew, but I don’t like that he replaces Bernthal’s Griff and then has the exact same role of guy-who-goes-out-of-his-way-to-be-an-asshole-to-Baby-100%-of-the-time. If he’s not in his face bullying him he’s doing the pretending-to-be-nice-in-a-way-that’s-obviously-actually-threatening-him routine. The one time he’s arguably trying to give him sincere advice he’s pointing a gun at him.

He’s an effective villain, but after DJANGO UNCHAINED I think it’s clear that Foxx deserves roles with more dimension. Jon Hamm (SPACE COWBOYS) as Buddy (last name Van Horn in homage to the great Clint Eastwood stunt double and director) gets to have more range. He shares genuine moments of friendship with the kid, bonding over music, before the relationship has reason to sour.

Doc seems like the worst of all of them, keeping Baby in indentured servitude by threatening his loved ones, (not-huge SPOILER) but abruptly turns into a loyal guardian. It seems like it would be a really satisfying turn if I believed it.

But the lead couple are easy to root for, nice kids trying to stay innocent in a world of violence, and as the traditional crime movie tension starts to squeeze tighter (people dead, people angry, family threatened, police circling, options narrowing) I couldn’t help but be more and more drawn in. For me there was suspense not only about getting away but about “is Wright gonna fuck this up and not have a big car chase as the climax?” I mean (SPOILER to the answer to that question) I question why he doesn’t really, but I found the conclusion very effective anyway.

(SPOILER NOTE: I always think it’s funny though in movies when a couple has been together for like a week or something and then the girl is still in love with him and waiting for him when he gets out of prison five years later.)

I have this problem. Wright seems like a really cool guy with great taste in movies and he’s made several very enjoyable comedies. I’ve liked almost all of them, but they are held in such high regard by others that I can’t discuss them without turning into the wet blanket parade-pisser representing the “well, I wouldn’t go that far” viewpoint. There’s a vocal internet contingent that feel every time he makes a movie he completely reinvents cinema, starting with when SHAUN OF THE DEAD changed the very definition of horror so that you’re allowed to put a funny comedy with zombie movie homages on the lists of the best actual horror or zombie movies.

So I was excited to see that BABY DRIVER is something different for Wright, a legitimate crime movie with danger and tension meant to be taken seriously. Baby my be an unlikely character to be in a heist movie, but that’s not a joke, he’s not constantly out of his element and talking about heist movies and amazed to be in a simulation of one. Not that there’s anything wrong with those genre homages, but straight up genre movie is more my speed. Get it, speed, because it’s– I mean, you get it, I think you get. Anyway I was sincerely convinced this was gonna be the one where I got to join the Edgar Wright marching band. The one I was finally gonna like as much as everybody else.

Well, the weeks or months of breathless adulation from film festivals and critic’s screenings have set the bar way too high for me. I can’t hang with some of these claims of groundbreaking filmatistic prowess, but I can’t let that shit bother me either. At least I’m narrowing the gap. Yeah, I enjoyed this one.

P.S. Did you know Wright had the idea for this in the early ’90s and it made its way into a 1994 music video for Mint Royale? You can see this is pretty similar to the opening scene, and I guess that lip-synching habit that prevents Baby from being Steve McQueen must be a holdover from this.

https://youtu.be/dfrcZsKcVxU

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.
This entry was posted on Monday, July 3rd, 2017 at 11:17 am and is filed under Action, Crime, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

37 Responses to “Baby Driver”

  1. I continue to be one who just did not care for ‘Baby Driver.’

  2. Wright seems like the very weird sort of a director that would actually benefit from a very good producer — I think he’s more fun and lively to watch than almost any of his contemporaries, but he seems to get bogged down and sidetracked in his fannishness in a way that always keeps his movies *just short* of being really transcendentally good.

    I mean, they’re all good, I like them, he just seems like a director who’s like a good writer that needs a better editor.

  3. It’s OK, but pretty forgettable outside 1 or 2 sequences. Biggest problem is the lead kids aren’t believable and I never buy their relationship. And the 3rd act is all over the place plot-wise.

    It’s interesting that for all his skill at deconstructing and satirizing action movies, he struggles to actually build a compelling action narrative or memorable villains.

  4. I think you all know how I feel about Baby Driver. I’ll day this. Braak feels like he is complaining about the very reason why so many like the crummy directors you do. You like guys who keep with their vision no matter what.

    Also, if any of you recall I mentioned when the first trailer came out that I wasn’t really excited for this one. I guess having no expectations for this helped but I’d like to think I would have loved it either way. It’s a good fucking movie you guys.

  5. It would be funny (at least for me) if Baby would listen to super uncool and shitty music. Like 90s Eurodance, Screamo or German Gangster Rap.

  6. Does that one horrible Beck song not count?

  7. Vern, it’s a common mistake but Doc never tells him one more job and he is done. Just one more job and Baby never owes him money.

  8. He actually even flashes a clip of Noel fielding in that music video on baby’s telly.

  9. Sternshein – I don’t think there’s a mistake there. I believe Doc used the word “straight,” I used “even.” He chose his words carefully and so did I.

  10. You think he is going to continue taking his money? That is what you are implying.

  11. Vern, did the timing of robberies to music remind you of Hudson Hawk? I’m sure it wasn’t an influence but I appreciate how Wright made it badass in a way that audiences could get behind, rather than kitschy in the way I adored when Bruce Willis did it. Song choice helps too. Audiences care more about these tracks than big band ’50s music.

    I thought it was a clever way to deal with the “one last job” cliche too. One last job and we’re even. I’ll start giving you a full cut but ain’t no way I’m letting my best driver go straight.

  12. I can see if you don’t think the movie justifies the hype, but I really don’t understand how someone just doesn’t like this movie. Just that opening credit scene alone is a delight. And I didn’t recognize this until The World’s End, but Wright is one hell of an action director.

    This is probably my favorite Wright film, mostly because as Vern says, he’s no longer just parodying a genre; he’s making a legit heist film.

  13. CrustaceanLove

    July 3rd, 2017 at 6:56 pm

    Hey Vern, I’ve got to say I really appreciate that you avoid using the word “overrated” when you find yourself in situations like this. I’ve never much liked that term (although I’m sure I’ve been guilty of using it myself), as it places your enjoyment of a film as the barometer by which all other enjoyment must be judged. “You guys like this stuff too much. I have the correct level of appreciation for this thing. Please tone it down.” The term “underrated” I’ve got less of a beef with, because it’s inherently positive.

    PS – I don’t want to open the whole horror vs. horror-comedy can of worms again, but if the RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD series are legit zombie movies then SHAUN OF THE DEAD qualifies as well.

  14. I too don’t understand why every movie the guy makes is treated like the second coming of cinema and I still have enjoyed every one I’ve seen.

  15. The guy is batting 1.000 because every movie has been good. Not many can say that after 5 movies.

  16. Daniel Strange

    July 3rd, 2017 at 9:03 pm

    I liked this but didn’t love it. Like Vern I was surprised that the movie didn’t end with the ultimate car chase of all time, it’s not just implied in the premise but also foreshadowed by Buddy’s “I used to fool around with cars when I was younger” conversation with Baby.

    That said, there are tons of great touches (like everybody’s real name being revealed at one point or another) and clever moments and it’s got its heart in the right place.

    *****SPOILER**** I really like that Edgar Wright didn’t feel like Baby should get away with everything at the end. It’s the rare crime movie that doesn’t take it for granted that our heroes should get away with being criminals just because they’re our heroes. ***END SPOILER****

    Anyway it was a pretty good time at the movies. I’ll take it.

  17. It’s a common thing among us above average film – and music – fans to not like what everyboy else likes. But sometimes we just have to do it. And some directors – like Hitchcock, Kubrick, Tarantino and Wright – seem to close the gap pretty well.

  18. I saw it a second time, and actually enjoyed it more. I think the problem I had with it first time was this expectation of an epic car chase finale. It wasn’t unreasonable to think that; due to the title of the film, what Wright has been saying in interviews for weeks, and the fact that he programmed a car chase film festival at the BFI in London.

    What really surprised me however, was the conversation had by Batz and Doc about how the kid used to outrun the cops on ‘spaghetti junction’ at night with no headlights on and the brake lights disconnected. At that moment I was absolutely convinced that was going to essentially be the finale, as Wright is known for the tightness of his scripts and the level of foreshadowing and callbacks he puts in. I suspect there originally was something to that effect planned, but the budget (only $34m) didn’t stretch that far.

    That final scene is still total bullshit though. No way would she wait 5 years for him after knowing Baby for a week, and him putting her in plenty of mortal danger.

  19. Sternshein – I guess I don’t understand why you’re zeroing in on this wording but I changed it to “we don’t fucking trust him” if that helps.

  20. DirkD13, it’s love! It makes people do the strangest things.

    Vern, I’ve followed you for, I don’t know, 10 years or so, and this is the first time I’ve noticed a grammatical error in a piece.

  21. Vern, I don’t know.

  22. In glad it didn’t end in a big fancy car chase. He didn’t even have his ipods so without it things get progressively harder for him. This isn’t a fast and the furious film.

  23. Wanting a car chase finale in a film promoted specifically as a ‘car-chase musical’ with the title Baby Driver, does not make me wish it was a F&F movie now does it Sternshein?! I get that you really loved it, and I couldn’t be more happy for you. I liked it more the second time, and I’m pretty sure repeat viewings will only cause it to grow on me more, but I kinda feel it was mis-marketed a bit so I went in with expectations of it being something that it really never was.

    That opening sequence was an absolute belter. I was so down for more of that.

  24. The Undefeated Gaul

    July 4th, 2017 at 10:07 am

    That Tokyo Drift reference made me laugh, good stuff. I’m in the same boat as plenty people on here. It’s a super likeable, undeniably fun film but the hype had made me think there would be more to it than that. I was also disappointed not so much in the lack of a big car chase ending, but in the quality of the action that was in the film. After stuff like Scott Pilgrim and World’s End I kept saying to people, wait until this guy does an action film! But here it is and it just falls short of expectations. The music was the only special thing to the action, you ignore that, theres not much left. Nothing on the level of kinetic energy as that bar fight with the aliens.

    Anyways, still liked it plenty for what it was and did deliver. A pretty good time at the movies.

  25. @Sternshein I’m not complaining, I like Edgar Wright movies; I really wish they’d kept him on for Ant-Man, too, I think some of that vision would have gone a long way to making that movie better. Personally, though, I don’t always agree that an uncompromising vision is an asset in a director; some directors need a lot of room to do whatever they want, some directors need a little less room so they stay focused, and Wright is one of the latter in my opinion.

  26. Braak, I disagree with you on that but that’s ok.

    Sorry Vern and others, I haven’t been this excited about a movie I saw in the theaters in a while so I got carried away.

  27. So this is weird. Anthony Bourdain tweeted “Fuck Baby Driver” and Ana Duvarney came to the films defense saying have respect for the people who made it. Bourdain then tweeted back a poster of The Raid and said “quality.” It’s funny because I obviously love both movies and neither movie are anything in common what so ever.

  28. It’s probably because too many are mistakenly labeling Wright’s film as just an action joint and some people are only viewing it through the lens of what it delivers as a pure action movie. Which apparently isn’t enough.

  29. Anthony Bourdain is convinced he’s the coolest person ever. It seems obvious he should take issue with a movie that defines its lead that way.

  30. To piggyback on Vern’s suggestion, I’m curious how much Edgar Wright imported his own experiences to Baby’s character. I-pods and tapes definitely seem more like touchstones for Wright’s generation than people 18-24 today (I think that’s the graphic that flashes up for Baby in this movie). I’m not a DJ, so I’ll have to ask some people, but even his sound mixing equipment seemed like it was retro and not modern tech. And his music choices are definitely real retro, as Verne pointed out, along with how he recalls the visual milieu in the flashbacks. On the one hand, growing up in the South myself (although not Atlanta, and not Atlanta after it’s post-olympics growth boom) that could be some time lag, but I’ve heard Wright comment in a pod he did with Amy Nicholson for The Canon re: Walter Hill’s The Driver that originally he conceived of this movie taking place in L.A., since Wright had lived there. But it proved too expensive and Atlanta won the tax break/logistics sweepstakes.

  31. I just liked that it was a movie filmed in Atlanta that actually took place there!

    Like Fled!

    I dug this flick a lot more than I expected to, and I’m totally in the bag for Wright. But it definitely lacked the heart/depth of character that his scripts with pegg have. Still, had a blast with this one, even if you gotta wonder why not bring ba k berenthal?

    One last thing: the way Vern describes the internet lovefest of Wright, and how you gotta tiptoe or quantify every little comment, also refers to Nolan and his rabid internet voice. Again, i genuinely like all Nolan’s films, but lets calm down.

  32. This kid commits about 25 counts of felony murder, including of about half a dozen cops, and he’s out on the street in five years…haha surrrrrre

    Good movie though

  33. I caught this one last night and I thought it was pretty fucking great. I hadn’t seen any trailers or read much about it ahead of time which probably made it even better for me. And this apparent internet obsession with Edgar Wright is kind of like the nudity in GLOW – I only read about it here on outlawvern so I didn’t go in to this with any bad feelings about the director or his fans (if I hadn’t known already I don’t think I would have even guessed who directed this). I do think most of his movies are pretty good but I have always been bored out of my mind by any action sequences in his other movies so was worried that this one might suck. But the action was really good. I’m not sure why you guys are not complaining there wasn’t some epic car chase – it was a pretty long foot/car/foot/truck/foot etc chase to end the movie and it was pretty exciting throughout.

    I had the opposite reaction of Vern to those two songs – I was really glad that it *wasn’t* the crappy hip hop version. And to be honest I didn’t even know the original songs. Also, I’m very ashamed to say that I didn’t even realize that No-Nose was Flea until I read this review.

    My take on the ending was that the girl wrote him a couple of letters and moved on. I think the shots of him coming out of jail were shot like the 70s flashbacks because it was just in his head – a fantasy to keep him going while on the inside. That girl was way too hot for him anyway.

    I read an interesting comment somewhere else that Bernthal should have played the Jon Hamm role. I agree that could have been fun but I thought Hamm was a very solid terminator. Bernthal does seem to be getting better and better as an actor – remember how awful he was in Walking Dead?

    Also, Anthony Bourdain is a fucking idiot. I can’t stand that dude.

  34. So today i was thinking about this movie. *spoilers kind of i guess* You know what I don’t get? At one point kevin spacey says that when a job is done his people call him up and say “bananas”. Then at the end of the movie when they get out of the elevator into the parking lot some dudes with guns run up and yell “bananas”. But why do they say that? It makes no sense.

    Also, Spacey’s dialogue was very cringe-worthy at times. E.g. “Shop – let talk it!” sounded really stupid.

    But minor quibbles aside I reaaly enjoyed it. I read a few more reviews and people really seem to hate *spoilers again* how jon hamm refused to die which i thought was awesome. And they didn’t like when he shot the ipod which again – awesome.

    One part i forgot to mention – when he has no ipod and steals a car and is frantically searching for a decent tune on the fm dial, I thought that part would go on for a lot longer. It should have taken a couple more minutes and ended with him settling for like spin doctors or something equally terrible.

  35. I knew Hallsy and I would agree on a movie. They said bananas because they are introducing themselves so he knew who was coming to kill him.

  36. Stern: Okay finally took up your near-month-old recommendation and saw this one! In order to lead a positive life I will list what I liked about it:
    -the car chases were okay
    -I’m happy you loved it so much

  37. Cool.

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