Ah, movie soundtracks. Wall-to-wall tunes can make great cinema all the more powerful (think American Graffiti, Goodfellas and Stand By Me) and, on occasion, give a considerable lift to otherwise ho-hum pictures (like Waiting to Exhale and yes, Saturday Night Fever).
In recent years, however, I've grown a tad wary of films leaning so heavily on their music. American Hustle and Guardians of the Galaxy, for instance, sport fabulous soundtracks but are otherwise middling and uninspired pictures. Still, people ate these two movies up, in large part because of the countless classic tunes trotted out in both films. The use of a fantastic song can do wonders with a scene...even if there's really nothing else of note to speak of on the screen.
Like those two pictures, Edgar Wright's Baby Driver sports one hell of a soundtrack, stuffed with '70s tracks and a scattering of tunes from other decades too. Unlike those films, however, Wright's picture also has some meat on its bones beyond just the music.
Ansel Elgort is Baby, the masterful getaway driver who, with earbuds and a limitless iTunes collection in tow, is a true beast behind the wheel. Baby begrudgingly works for heist mastermind Doc (Kevin Spacey) to both pay off a debt he owes to the kingpin and support his deaf foster father (C.J. Jones). Among the colorful characters Baby is stuck chauffeuring around are the hotheaded Buddy (Jon Hamm), vicious Bats (Jamie Foxx) and conniving Darling (Elza Gonzalez).
One day, Baby comes across the woman of his dreams, diner waitress Deborah (Lily James). That head-over-heels feeling is mutual but just when it appears Baby's business with Doc is over and the young couple can drive off into the sunset together, Doc forces Baby into another, even more perilous heist job. With Baby itching to run away with his new love and tensions high among the increasingly unhinged team, odds are heads will roll this time around.
More than anything, Baby Driver is a master class in film editing and sound. The car chase sequences here nearly rival the legendary likes of Bullitt and The French Connection. Per usual with Wright's films, there is no shortage of buoyant energy beaming off the screen and the director/writer also does a lovely job with the romance between Baby and Deborah. Their scenes together have a genuine, warm charm that serve as a refreshing break from an otherwise punchy and savage picture.
Elgort isn't necessarily the most compelling of actors but still makes for a plenty convincing and engaging Baby. Even better is James, enchanting as the innocent dragged along for the dizzying ride. Spacey, Hamm and Foxx are just OK as the heist-hungry crooks - all three, obviously, have been in much more challenging form before but also don't bring a whole lot of juice to their roles. It's some of the smaller turns, like the endearing and funny Jones and Andrea Frye, as an old lady both carjacked and charmed by Baby, that often steal the show.
Baby Driver isn't spectacular from head to toe - the non-action scenes involving the criminals aren't all that absorbing and the combo of violence and comedy isn't as at-ease as in Wright's Hot Fuzz - but still, it's a fun and vibrant summer romp for the most part, with some dynamite set pieces. Also, how could I not enjoy a film that intertwines both It's Complicated and The Little Rascals in the same scene?