Baby Driver distinguishes itself from other car chase movies through its use of music. Instead of finding appropriate tracks while editing, the soundtrack was chosen in pre-production, and the film was shot with those songs in mind. On paper, this process doesn’t seem all that innovative. But on screen, Baby Driver has a movie musical quality that allows the insanity to appear controlled and connected.
In Edgar Wright’s first film since the Ant-Man debacle, the titular get-away driver is not a literal baby voiced by Alec Baldwin, but a baby-faced-and-named vehicular savant played by Ansel Elgort. He looks like he could be still in high school, but as exposition would have it, he’s been paying back a debt mob-boss extraordinaire Kevin Spacey for nearly a decade. Once he’s even, he wants out, but an adequately grumpy Spacey doesn’t want him to leave.
Simple enough, yeah? One more thing: Baby has tinnitus, a disorder that causes a constant ringing in his ears. He plays music to drown it out, which is how the film justifies a soundtrack that collaborates so intimately with the visuals. There are sequences that could almost feel like a Spike Jonze music video if the songs weren’t all nostalgia picks (or maybe that’s why it feels Jonzian).
Baby Driver is like John Wick meets La La Land. Like John Wick, Baby Driver repeats its protagonist’s crime name incessantly, while relishing in the almost intentionally clichéd nature of its plot and showcasing some insane action sequences. The soundtrack and chase seems like expertly planned song and dance, and like La La Land, the movie isn’t really about anything other than itself.
Throughout the course of the first two acts, Baby falls in love with a waitress named Deborah (Lily James). Instead of being an actual character, Deborah becomes a plot device: the major incentive for Baby to escape the crime life. This is Baby Driver’s biggest weakness. Many of the film’s actors, including Jamie Foxx and Jon Hamm, feel wasted playing characters that amount to little more than personality-swapping roadblocks.
The first 45 minutes of Baby Driver is magnetic beyond belief. It somehow manages to make going for a coffee run look cool. But as the film progresses, it gets tedious and repetitive. Baby Driver never builds on its themes, and we never get to feel like we understand the characters at play. But that doesn’t mean that it’s not a wild ride. While it doesn’t emerge with the fastest time, Baby Driver makes a good argument for itself in the pantheon of car chase movies, and it’s well worth a watch. Just make sure you don’t let your toddler drive.