Now we’re talking.
Edgar Wright’s “Baby Driver” is one of the most entertaining thrill rides of this year, this decade.
It’s wall-to-wall pure pop heaven, crackling with originality and dark humor, teeming with action sequences so perfectly timed and executed you almost want to run out of the theater on the spot so you can call a friend and rave about it — but you wouldn’t dare leave your seat because you wouldn’t want to miss a frame of this brilliant, pulse-quickening gem.
“Baby Driver” is set in real world, present-time Atlanta — but it’s spun in the fashion of a semi-fantastical folk tale, with familiar archetypes and classic conflicts. It feels a little bit like a 21st century urban Western. It’s “Pulp Fiction” meets “La La Land,” and why shouldn’t those two meet? (Wright is also clearly a fan of the films of Walter Hill — the veteran director even has a cameo in this film — and I wouldn’t be surprised if he really dug Nicolas Winding Refn’s “Drive” as well.)
The appropriately baby-faced Ansel Elgort delivers a charming and cocky and infectious and borderline irritating performance as Baby, who is charming and cocky and infectious and, yes, borderline irritating.
Baby is a savant behind the wheel who doesn’t talk much, rarely goes without shades and is always, always wearing ear buds and grooving to his iPod tunes, the better to drown out the constant ringing in his ears from tinnitus that’s plagued him since a tragic car accident when he was just a boy.
We meet Baby as he’s parked outside a downtown bank in a bright red, tricked-out Subaru. He fidgets with his iPod and clicks on “Bellbottoms” by the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion.
A moment later, three armed robbers come flying out of the bank and dive into Baby’s car. Baby cranks up the volume, races the engine, shifts gears — and off we go on one of the most creative and exhilarating car chases you’ll ever see.
At the obligatory rendezvous in a remote warehouse, we get to know the team of hardened criminals that pulled off the heist. There’s the tattooed and menacing Griff (Jon Bernthal); the weirdly coiffed and dangerous but outwardly amiable Buddy (Jon Hamm), and Buddy’s tough and gorgeous and wisecracking wife Darling (Eiza Gonzalez).
Oh, and a perfectly deadpan Kevin Spacey is Doc, the big boss and mastermind who plans the heists and hires various gun-persons for each job — the only constant being Baby behind the wheel, because Baby never gets caught and Baby has become Doc’s good-luck charm. (Also, Baby owes Doc and doesn’t have a choice. We’ll leave it at that.)
Writer-director Wright serves up familiar, almost corny tropes that might have us rolling our eyes if we didn’t feel we were in on the references. Lily James is the sweet-faced Debora, a dreamy waitress who talks and moves as if she’s in a 1950s B-romance. CJ Jones is Baby’s foster father, Joseph, who is deaf and mute and in a wheelchair. Jamie Foxx is sensational as Bats, the obligatory bloodthirsty maniac who’s so psycho he even freaks out semi-psycho fellow criminals.
We even get the old “One last job and then I’m out!” plot development.
Yet nothing about “Baby Driver” feels like a retread. The dialogue pops and crackles with sharp one-liners, the chase sequences are gritty and exuberant and fueled by the eclectic pop soundtrack, the editing is tight and timely and the performances are spectacular.
At one point during a shootout sequence, each blast of gunfire is in sync with the rhythm section of the pop song on the soundtrack. It’s goofy and precise and really, really cool.
“Baby Driver” is rich with intriguing characters. I’d love to see an entire movie about Hamm’s Buddy and Gonzalez’ Darling, and how they got to where they are. (In a tense diner scene, the seemingly unhinged Bats speculates about their back story, drilling deeper and deeper, and seems to be hitting some pretty serious nerves, judging by their expressions.)
And what’s the deal with Spacey’s Doc? He knows all and sees all, and he’s capable of cold and calculating retribution if someone crosses him — and yet he has an almost fatherly affection for Baby. Where did THIS guy come from?
In sepia-toned flashbacks, we learn about Baby’s beloved mother — a singer with the voice of an angel — and his monstrous father. In brief fantasy sequences, Debora appears as a black-and-white vision. Like Baby’s mother, she is pure and lovely and she represents all that is good and innocent and wonderful about life.
As opposed to the maniacs with guns who want Baby dead after Baby makes some, shall we say, questionable decisions.
And all the while, we hear the soundtrack feeding Baby’s every move and reflecting Baby’s every mood — literally dozens of songs, from “Tequila” by the Champs to “Brighton Rock” by Queen to “Nowhere to Run” by Martha Reeves & the Vandellas to “Radar Love” by Golden Earring to “Hocus Pocus” by Focus, arguably the most ridiculous and undeniably catchy gimmick tune of the 1970s.
It all works. All of it. The music, the performances, the twists and turns in the plot, the sheer energy and life force of the movie.
If you see this movie and tell me you didn’t have a great time, we’re going to have to sit down and talk about your idea of a great time.
TriStar Pictures presents a film written and directed by Edgar Wright. Rated R (for violence and language throughout). Running time: 113 minutes. Opens Wednesday at local theaters.