BABY DRIVER (R13, 109 MINS), DIRECTED BY EDGAR WRIGHT,
Edgar Wright’s ‘‘Cornetto Trilogy’’ of Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz and The World’s End are three of my favourite comedies. Period.
They stand endless viewings. And the standalone, under-rated
Scott Pilgrim vs The World has had me in a cult of one ever since I first saw it.
There’s joy in that film, a Juno- meets- The Matrix goofiness and a deep understanding of the places where comic books and films can intersect that makes me grin just sitting here thinking about it.
But ‘‘here’’, now, is a quiet bar in the shadow of Myrtle/ Broadway station, in Brooklyn, New York. The car chase in The French Connection was partly filmed right outside this place. For me, this is hallowed ground. And that’s kind of the problem.
Edgar Wright’s new film –
Baby Driver – is a car chase movie. He’s tried to imbue it with some of Shaun and Hot Fuzz‘ s real-world, location-specific comedy, and some of Scott Pilgrim‘ s cartoonish daffiness; all in the service of a screenplay which is trying to pay homage to the car-chase and bank-heist golden age of the 1970s. It’s an unwieldy mix. And it just doesn’t work.
Baby Driver is set in present day Atlanta, Georgia (Georgia has one of the United States’ most generous tax rebate schemes for film-makers).
Baby (Ansel Elgort) is a preternaturally gifted driver whose debt to crime lord Kevin Spacey means he is the only permanent member of Spacey’s rotating team of stick-up artists.
Over the course of a couple of heists, the core of the gang – Jon Hamm, Jamie Foxx and Eiza Gonza´lez – begin to fracture, mostly over the lengths Foxx’s homicidal ‘‘Bat’’ will go to. Everything goes terribly wrong. As it must.
Complicating Baby’s situation is the fact that he has fallen in love with Debora (Lily James), a waitress at a local diner.
Baby Driver just doesn’t know what film it is from one scene to the next. There’s a cutesy, dorky teen rom-com unfolding in the diner, but it’s welded to an increasingly blood-soaked series of armed robberies acted out by psychopaths.
Wright got away with a similar John Hughes-meets-John Woo mashup in Scott Pilgrim by setting the violence mostly in a fantasy alternative reality.
But Baby Driver doesn’t have that get-out and the on-screen mix quickly shatters our credulity and goodwill.
An obvious comparison might be True Romance. But that film was based around a couple of credibly tough and damaged kids. Nothing in Elgort’s performance as Baby hints at any real steel in his spine. And while Debora never gets to do much at all but hang around waiting for Baby to call, True Romance‘ s Alabama (Patricia Arquette) fought mafia thug James Gandolfini to the death armed with nothing more than a dunny lid, a can of hairspray and a corkscrew. The comparison is kinda damning.
Wright is getting a lot of praise for staging the car chases with actual cars and stunt drivers. And that’s fair enough. After the mutilated pixels-as-cars of the Fast and Furious franchise, it is refreshing to see real metal on screen.
But the chases never achieve anything like the visceral grit and threat of a French Connection, Bullit, Ronin. I walked into Baby Driver wanting, maybe even expecting, to see a film that – like everything else Wright has made – would be the stuff of a future cult. What I got was a film that was trying way too hard to be cool. And as everybody knows, there’s nothing less cool than that. – Graeme Tuckett