Baby Driver, British director Edgar Wright’s newest smash-hit, has garnered nationwide acclaim since its release last week. Richard Roeper, chief film critic of the Chicago Sun-Times, said, “Baby Driver is one of the most entertaining thrill rides of this year, this decade.” Peter Travers of Rolling Stone said it was a “start to finish sensation… and the most fun you’ll have at the movies all summer.”
On the other hand, Anthony Bourdian tweeted the following:
Fuck BABY DRIVER.
— Anthony Bourdain (@Bourdain) July 4, 2017
I agree with the chef. Despite a stacked cast and Wright’s superb filmmaking talent, Baby Driver is plagued by poorly written characters and action-flick clichés, and fails to deliver on many levels.
The story isn’t completely incoherent. There’s conflict, love, and plenty of space for action. Baby (Ansel Elgort) owes Doc (Kevin Spacey) some serious money, so Baby works as his go-to heist driver. After Baby pays up, Doc brings him in for yet another high-reward, high-reward job. Baby, however, is falling in love with Debora (Lily James), and he must figure out how to save the girl and not get killed himself. It’s a good premise, but that can only take a film so far.
Baby Driver’s most glaring flaw is its namesake. The protagonist of a film doesn’t need to be likable, but it is difficult to connect to Baby on any level, mainly because he has no concrete traits. Baby is a criminal. He drives for hazardous heists, in which people are either traumatized, injured, or killed. Yet, Wright goes to unnecessarily great lengths to prove that Baby is actually a good guy. When Baby goes on trial, for example, one woman says that although Baby stole her car, he returned her purse, so he must be kind at heart. That’s great, but the guy stole a car. This inconsistency weakens the central conflict of the film. Baby would not be driving these heists, we are told, if Doc weren’t forcing him to do it. But let’s not forget that even though Baby grew up with a loving foster father (CJ Jones), Baby was out committing serial grand theft auto before Doc found him. That is not exactly youthful mischievousness.
These contradictions are everywhere in the film. Baby is “weird” and silent, but then he is also conventionally charming. Baby was in a tragic car accident that killed both his parents, but now he is the most dangerous driver on the planet. (This is particularly crazy to me. People avoid things that traumatize them. I once threw up from eating too many hot dogs, and I didn’t eat another one for seven years.) Ultimately, Wright’s attempt to make Baby a unique protagonist falls flat as he struggles to develop his personality within the framework of a heist movie.
Baby is not the only bad character. Debora, the girl, is completely passive. Her two main traits – that she is nice and wants to drive really far away – serve to keep the plot moving. On what might as well be her second date with Baby, he shoots Buddy (Jon Hamm) in the chest and she doesn’t ask questions. It’s also worth mentioning that the scenes of heavy dialogue between Baby and Debora are like Cialis commercials.
Doc, the heist mastermind, is also exceptionally inconsistent in his motives. For about 95 percent of the movie, he is a threatening, evil figure. Then, when Baby purposely fucks everything up during Doc’s well-planned heist, Doc finds a soft spot for him and Debora. Unless I missed the side plot in which Doc joins a tribal trance dance group and starts popping mollies, his sudden reverence for true love is dumbfounding.
Without strong main characters, the story of Baby Driver survives on Jamie Foxx’s performance as Bats. Even though Bats is merely a caricature of a psychotic villain, Foxx brings much needed suspense and humor. The best scene of the entire movie is easily when the gang goes to Debora’s diner, and Foxx lets loose (and Baby and Debora don’t speak to each other).
As faulty as the story may be, Baby Driver is technically impressive. The action sequences are undeniably creative and exciting, albeit gratuitous at points – Jon Hamm could have died many minutes sooner, but I guess cocaine is a hell of a drug. Wright edits the movie to beat of his soundtrack effectively, yet there is no part of Baby Driver that can compare to the “Don’t Stop Me Now” scene in Shaun of the Dead.
Perhaps, Baby Driver’s poor quality is exacerbated by the high expectations for Edgar Wright. His oeuvre is impressive and his style is striking, but Baby Driver is the least exciting and funny movie he has made to date. If the rumors are true that a sequel is already in the works, we better hope it’s a Bats spinoff.