Movie Review: Harmonic ‘Baby Driver’ Crashes & Burns

Movie Review: Harmonic ‘Baby Driver’ Crashes & Burns

How bad can a good movie’s ending be before it sinks the whole thing?

That’s the question in Baby Driver, in which an ingenious 80-minute exercise in heist movie music video fun completely self-destructs during a climax in which story, character, tone and even style go up up in flames.

Still, the ride there is a genuinely good time - and makes Baby Driver an easy recommendation. It sits at 94% on the Tomatometer and in the middle of IMDb’s Top 250, so the crash landing isn’t spoiling the fun for most viewers.

The central thrust here is a music-themed gimmick - one that director Wright already debuted way back in 2003 in a music video for Mint Royale’s Blue Song.

You see, Baby (Ansel Elgort) suffers from tinnitus following a childhood accident, and to blunt the ringing in his ears he’s always listening to music, even when he’s having a conversation.

And if you’re going to listen to music, it might as well be good: Baby Driver’s instant-classic soundtrack compilation includes hits from The Beach Boys, The Commodores, Queen, Blur, Beck, T. Rex, Dave Brubeck, R.E.M., Barry White...  the list goes on and on and includes a number of lesser-known pieces and bits of score cribbed from other films.

Baby is a getaway driver working for Doc (Kevin Spacey), and he doesn’t only rob banks set to the film’s wonderful soundtrack: every step he takes is timed to the beat of whatever’s playing throughout the entire film.

The film’s wonderful initial scenes feature an action-packed heist (a new version of the Mint Royle music video) and casual stroll down the street: through both of them, the characters and the film itself interact with the music in (literally) note-perfect manner. Every movement and edit is precisely timed and executed to every beat. 

While the music video gimmickry is more subtle throughout the rest of the film, it’s always present - and it’s enough to drive the film and maintain interest, even if the story doesn’t.

But Baby Driver does have a compelling story: a takeoff of Walter Hill’s The Driver or Refn’s Drive - and there’s even some of Mann’s Heat in here - Baby is forced into a violent line line of work he wants to get out of alongside criminal elements like Jon Hamm’s shady Buddy and Jamie Foxx’s psychopathic Bats.

Hamm and Foxx, by the way, steal the show. Elgort’s lead is fine, but his quiet cool doesn’t exactly evoke memories of Ryan Gosling in Drive. The colorful heist crews, which also include characters played by Jon Bernthal, Eiza González, Lanny Joon, and Flea, are a lot more fun than our bland hero.

While the plot is standard stuff, the integration of music into the proceedings elevates Baby Driver to a whole new level; the sound design and editing are phenomenal, and turn this into a uniquely groovy experience.

And then it all goes up in smoke: around 80 minutes in, Baby hits the gas and the film never looks back. Every character - but especially Baby, Buddy, and Doc - acts in a way that completely contradicts their established motivations, all so the story can resolve itself in traditional action movie fashion. Something we never wanted or expected, anyway.

And then there’s the finale proper, in which Wright wants to have his cake and eat it too by formally rehabilitating his lead character during an artificial happy ending so out-of-tune with the rest of the film I half-expected it all to be a deathbed dream sequence.

But is it enough to sink the whole enterprise? Baby Driver left me cold but there’s no denying the majority of it is a toe-tappin' blast.

The titular track, from Simon & Garfunkel’s Bridge Over Troubled Water, plays out over the closing credits.

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