Admittedly, “Baby Driver” employs a gimmick. Written and directed by the impossibly clever Edgar Wright (“Hot Fuzz,” “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World”), the film’s main character is a getaway driver who times his crew’s bank robberies to be in sync with his iPod, which has an eclectic playlist of pop/rock songs that are heard not just in his earbuds but by us, the audience.
“Baby Driver” is thus a musical of sorts, not in the sense of characters bursting into song to express their feelings, but in the sense that the action and dialogue are inextricably linked to a carefully curated selection of tunes. In the bravura opening-credits sequence, our guy struts down the sidewalk to Bob & Earl’s “Harlem Shuffle” as snippets of the lyrics appear “coincidentally” in store windows, graffiti, and posted signs. Elsewhere, you’ll find that gunshots and other sounds are sometimes synched with whatever song is scoring that scene.
I call the use of music a “gimmick” because the film would be significantly less entertaining without it. The story is elementary: Baby (Ansel Elgort), an expert car thief and driver so nicknamed because of his youth and reluctance to speak, works for Doc (Kevin Spacey), a menacingly folksy Atlanta drug kingpin with a revolving cast of miscreants doing robberies for him. Baby meets a diner waitress, Debora (Lily James), who’s lovely and sweet and makes him yearn to escape his life of crime, but first he has to do One Last Job, which, wouldn’t you know it, goes awry. Wright gives the dialogue his usual pep, having fun with gangster cliches (“Here’s Eddie No-Nose, formerly Eddie the Nose”) and giving the characters amusing quirks, but the framework is basic.
Still, if the use of music is a gimmick, it’s a remarkably well-executed one, successfully transforming the familiar material into something buoyant and new. Baby has good reasons, both physical and psychological, for always being plugged into his iPod. He’s aware and unconcerned that it makes his underworld colleagues think he’s being aloof. An orphan, Baby was raised by an old deaf man, Joseph (CJ Jones), with whom he communicates silently. He fell into the criminal lifestyle accidentally and doesn’t have the stomach for it. He’s strictly the driver, not a gunman, and he’s shocked at how casually the gunmen he works with — including a cackling Bonnie-and-Clyde couple, Buddy (Jon Hamm) and Darling (Eiza Gonzalez), and a flat-out psycho named Bats (Jamie Foxx) — perpetrate violence. (It is suggested that these and the other robbers under Doc’s thumb owe him service because of their cocaine habits, which Doc discreetly calls “nasal problems.”)
[Continue reading at Crooked Marquee.]
B+ (1 hr., 53 min.; )