Baby Driver: Learning to care about people in cars 

What a fun and thrilling summertime romp we have in writer-director Edgar Wright's Baby Driver. Wright's is the mind behind all those British comedies we love (Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz and The World's End), but this latest effort has more in common with his oddly perfect 2010 movie Scott Pilgrim vs. the World. Both feature American actors and a cadence borrowed from Hollywood musicals. In Scott Pilgrim, we got fight scenes in place of musical numbers. In Baby Driver, Wright choreographs extravagant car-chase sequences with a score that hits and hits.

The film stars Ansel Elgort as the titular "Baby"not his given name, but a codename given by his criminal coworkers on account of his soft features and delicate age. We first meet Baby as he waits in the getaway car outside a bank heist, iPod at the ready. The heist completed, accomplices Buddy (Jon Hamm) and Darling (Eliza González) hop in the car and the gang speeds off with Atlanta police in hot pursuit for the first in a series of elaborate getaways. I'm not a car person, but cursory research reveals that Baby is driving a 2007 Subaru Impreza WRX. In any case, the car is red and fast.

Back at the rendezvous, we meet the boss leader, Doc, played by Kevin Spacey with the same smug cruelty he brings to all his characters of dubious morality. It's here that we get just enough character backstory to tide us over. Of Baby we learn that a childhood car accident left him orphaned and with a taste for fast cars. We learn, too, that the crash gave him tinnitus, which is why he's constantly clad in Apple earbuds, but honestly, the kid is a millennial—does he really need a reason?

click to enlarge Ansel Elgort stars in Baby Driver.
  • Ansel Elgort stars in Baby Driver.

Baby's foray into crime is a classic in-over-his-head situation. At first, he's just paying off a debt to Doc, but if movies have taught us anything, it's that once you're in the game, it's hard to claw your way out, particularly when you're as talented a driver as Baby is. Doc repeatedly assures him they need just one more score, and every time we hold our breath with the certainty that eventually, inevitably, one of these heists will not go according to plan. We might not be so anxious for Baby if he didn't have loved ones waiting in the wings, but sure enough, there's his kindly deaf caretaker, Joseph (CJ Jones) and a pretty waitress at the local diner named Debora (Lily James) to fret over.

The plot thickens when Bats (Jamie Foxx) joins the crew. Bats plays by his own rules and doesn't care for punk kids in earbuds who don't say much and drive getaway cars for a living. (Does this character represent chaotic evil, or neutral evil? Discuss.) Bats has a penchant for violence that's unpredictable and exciting.

I appreciate the movie's soft R rating, as opposed to PG-13, because Wright could have gone either way. Here's PG-13 versus R in a nutshell: When a guy gets shot in an R-rated movie, you know for sure he's dead.

I also appreciate the way Wright places his characters in service to cool music and fast cars. Filmgoers with taste will be pleased to learn that the chase sequences mostly eschew CGI for real drivers and practical effects. As to the realism of these car-centric scenes, again, I'm not an expert. The movie works for me because the action is comprehensive. I can follow what's happening, I care about the people in the cars, and I worry about them.

Baby Driver opens at the Missoula AMC Fri., June 30.

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