Meet Baby (Ansel Elgort).
He’s not quite your average wheelman.
He looks like the lovechild of Ferris Bueller and a young, slightly goofier Harrison Ford (right down to the Han Solo waistcoat), and always has a pair of sunglasses at the ready. Sat behind the wheel of a getaway car, he seems to possess all the stoicism and focus of Ryan O’Neal in The Driver or Ryan Gosling in Drive. With one key difference.
You see, Baby has a dance in his step and a song in his heart – and ears.
A sufferer of chronic tinnitus, the result of the childhood accident, he listens to music constantly to drown out what his employer, criminal mastermind Doc (a proud, if somewhat dryly, paternalistic Kevin Spacey), refers to as “a hum in the drum”. It’s this, we are led to believe, that help makes Baby the best at what he does: driving.
When Baby’s in the zone, as he often is, the car is like an extension of his body and all the world seems orchestrated to his choice in soundtrack. He can fishtail past a tire trap and spin it into the past of an oncoming cop car like a world-class footballer doing a heel kick.
He’s also got a mean line in lip syncing and is pretty agile on his feet, too.
Some of the stick-up men he’s forced to hang around with might get rubbed up the wrong way by Baby’s apparent aloofness, but Baby’s not about to let that get to him. He’s got one more job to do to pay off his debts to Doc then he’s out. Of course, as we know from every getaway driver movie before this, it’s never that simple.
His first film since the final instalment of the Cornetto Trilogy back in 2013, writer-director Edgar Wright clearly has a love for and knowledge of the genre. As such, the opening act of Baby Driver can’t help but feel slightly perfunctory, ersatz even; as though Wright is trying to get into place all the pieces he’ll need for later.
There’s Baby’s romantic interest, a folksy, idealised waitress named Debora (Lily James), with whom he listens to music with during an impromptu date in a laundromat, and his elderly foster father Joe (C.J. Jones) – also hearing impaired – with whom he has a teasing, affectionate relationship that hides a depth of concern. We know, for instance, that Baby’s inexplicable habit of recording and remixing conversations, including criminal ones, will come back to haunt him.
The self-conscious hipness could be off-putting – this is a film where icy threats are met with ironic applause (“That’s some Oscar level shit right there!”) – were it not executed with such lightness and energy; if not exactly anything resembling substance.
Despite its unashamed poppiness – there’s a definite streak of Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World – Baby Driver also summons up a surprising level of tension, too. All of the crews with whom Baby works are comfortable with, even casual about, killing; from the red-suited Bats (an understatedly menacing Jamie Foxx), who would rather commit murder than pay for a stick of gum, to the sleazily handsome Buddy (Jon Hamm) and his flirty, Bonnie-&-Clyde beau Darling (Eiza Gonzalez); both of whom seem friendly but may prove no less dangerous for it.
Slick and dynamic, Baby Driver takes these familiar tropes– like the code-names by which everyone is known – and has fun with them; as in the misunderstanding by which a dull-witted bagman grabs the crew masks of the wrong Michael Myers or a close-quarters warehouse firefight in which the gunshots sync up with Tequila by The Champs.
The film doesn’t set out to reinvent the wheel – this is a loving, unexpectedly bloody addition to the canon rather than a clever deconstruction of it a la Hot Fuzz.
If you’re a fan of ’70s getaway movies, though, you’ll want to make tracks to the cinema; just don’t expect the film to stick around in the memory too long.