Combustible Celluloid
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With: Ansel Elgort, Lily James, Kevin Spacey, Jon Hamm, Jamie Foxx, Jon Bernthal, Eiza González, Flea, Sky Ferreira, Big Boi, Killer Mike, Paul Williams, Jon Spencer, Hudson Meek
Written by: Edgar Wright
Directed by: Edgar Wright
MPAA Rating: R for violence and language throughout
Running Time: 113
Date: 06/28/2017

Baby Driver (2017)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Free Wheeling

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

It's no wonder that Edgar Wright and Quentin Tarantino are friends. They have something in common that the many Tarantino wannabes do not; they share a powerful enthusiasm for film. They genuinely love the ways that good films can feel and move and sound, and that excitement is captured and re-broadcasted to the audience. It's a gift that few have.

Not to say that Wright is a Tarantino wannabe. His career began quite differently, on television in England, and then with zombies. In 2007, his Hot Fuzz was an English cop movie that heavily referenced other cop movies, and even included an unapologetic favorite double-feature for its characters: Point Break and Bad Boys II. That was the year that Tarantino invited Wright to contribute a short, funny, fake trailer to the Grindhouse compilation film.

Now Wright is back with Baby Driver, an exciting, gleeful movie that comes the closest of anything he has done to Tarantino territory. There are professional thieves of various stripes, a slick crime boss, a cute girl, and a hero that lives simply and doesn't talk much (he comes from a worthy family tree that includes Alain Delon in Le Samourai, Jean Reno in The Professional, Forest Whitaker in Ghost Dog, Jason Statham in The Transporter, and Ryan Gosling in Drive).

Baby (Ansel Elgort) lost his parents in a car accident that left him with a chronic case of tinnitus. He misses his mother most of all, and because she was a singer, she left him with a love for all kinds of music; he owns several classic iPods and listens to music all the time to cover up the humming. He even makes electronic mixes out of voice recordings.

He's also a crackerjack driver. He can apparently get through any obstacle and outrun any pursuer. He works for notorious crime lord Doc (Kevin Spacey), slowly paying off a debt. Otherwise, he lives with his deaf foster father (CJ Jones), and saves his money, waiting for the day that he is free of the underworld. He meets waitress Debora (Lily James) in the diner where his mother used to work. They fall instantly in love and plans of hitting the road and escaping forever begin to hatch.

But there is one more job. He is to drive thieves Buddy (Jon Hamm), Darling (Eiza Gonzalez), and Bats (Jamie Foxx) on a post office robbery. Of course, everything goes wrong, starting when the volatile Bats shoots and kills the arms dealers supplying the guns for the job. From out of nowhere, Paul Williams plays the head of the arms dealers, called "The Butcher," who describes the guns as if they were cuts of meat.

Flea of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, and rappers Big Boi and Killer Mike also appear. This goes along with Wright's wonderful musical selections in the film, a wide array of stuff that includes beautiful instrumentals by the Beach Boys and R.E.M., and ranging from Bob and Earl's "Harlem Shuffle" — used in a bravura single-shot sequence — to the Damned's punk anthem "Neat Neat Neat." The Commodores' "Easy" also plays an important part, not to mention a pair of "Debora" songs by Beck and T. Rex.

The energy of the music helps drive the movie's action. In one scene, Baby starts a song to accompany his getaway drive, but when something goes wrong, he pauses to start the song all over again. Wright orchestrates the chases as if they were dances to go with the beat, snap-cuts to feet on pedals, hands on stickshifts or e-brakes, tires screeching around corners, near-misses, the roar of the engine, and the sheer speed of it all.

The entire movie has a jaunty bounce and strut. Even away from the driver's seat, Baby moves to the music, whether it's buying coffee or making a peanut butter sandwich for his foster dad (peanut butter spread all the way to the edges). This also applies to the movie's romance. Baby Driver doesn't have time to mess around with typical rom-com devices. As in Tarantino's True Romance, these two fall in love and they are meant for each other, and that's it. It's that simple and heartfelt.

Despite its groove, however, Wright still knows how to mix it up, tossing in little surprises from time to time. He seems less interested in telling a linear story than he is at suggesting the experience, or the art, of a story. I think that, like his other films, this one will benefit from multiple viewings; a single viewing may feel a bit exhausting, and perhaps not as emotional as one might hope. But the emotion is there. If you look hard enough, there's a little bit of Baby in all of us.

Sony/Tri-Star's Blu-ray release is pretty awesome. Even if the image and sound isn't all one could have hoped for, it's still plenty terrific. It comes with an enormous package of extras, starting with two audio commentary tracks, one with director Wright solo and another with Wright and cinematographer Bill Pope. There are deleted scenes, short featurettes, scene animatics, auditions, storyboards, previews, and a music video.

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