Edgar Wright has directed some of the most entertaining, endlessly watchable TV and cinema I can remember. I’m sure a lot of us recall the fantastic and endlessly quotable Spaced from the late 90s. Then there’s Shaun of the Dead, which (alongside Zack Snyder’s Dawn of the Dead remake) made zombie films cool again for a while before, ironically enough, George A Romero made a new Dead trilogy that wasn’t a patch on the originals.
Nevertheless, I was fairly apprehensive approaching Baby Driver. I enjoyed Wright’s first two films featuring Simon Pegg & Nick Frost, but was left a little cold by The World’s End and Scott Pilgrim vs The World didn’t do much for me either. Whatsmore, something about the title just didn’t appeal to me.
If I had to sum up Baby Driver in three words it would be “style over substance”. The story is so threadbare and unoriginal there’s not much to really applaud or root for. We follow Baby who is, obviously, a driver – a getaway driver, to be specific – for Kevin Spacey’s heist-pulling kingpin Doc. Of course he’s desperate to leave this all behind and is only doing these jobs because he owes Doc money and has sick guardian to take care of. But then he meets the girl of his dreams and… wait, haven’t you heard this all before a hundred times?
Original it isn’t. I’ve seen more convincing character and story arcs in a three-panel comic. Ansel Elgort doesn’t generate enough charisma to really warrant being the lead and it was a shame to see Jon Bernthal’s Griff feature early on being all tough and in-your-face before being replaced needlessly by Jamie Foxx, who plays the exact same tough and in-your-face character. Lily James as Debora is probably the closest we get to a likeable character and while she is a joy to watch throughout, she is just there as a narrative device for her man (Jon Hamm).
A lot of the celebration around Baby Driver has been about its style, which often mimics the looks and sounds of a music video. The opening bank robbery and subsequent car chase is superbly cut with The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion’s Bellbottoms, while the second best scene comes straight after and features Baby strolling through his neighbourhood to the Harlem Shuffle as the lyrics match what’s happening on screen. It’s executed really well and sets expectations high for the rest of the film but in many ways the repetitiveness and formulaic nature of popular music works against Baby Driver. After we’ve seen it done once, it can only echo past glories.
To take a step back, I’m perhaps being a little unfair to Baby Driver as I was mostly entertained throughout and I’m sure it will do fantastically well with audiences of all appropriate ages. It’s one your mum and dad will likely enjoy. I just wanted a lot more.
Baby Driver is screening at the Filmhouse, Edinburgh until 20th July 2017.