Edgar Wright is best known as the master of comedic tributes to genre films that never stoop to parody due to his genuine affection for the source material. He is not the only director to self-consciously employ techniques and tropes from older films, but he is the best at balancing his modernist sensibilities with a real desire to see the world from the point of view of the character—from Dawn of the Dead to Point Break. His love is not ironic, his references are not winking, his jokes are not pandering, and his name has become synonymous with a very specific brand of film appreciation that is capable of hyper-analysis of pop culture from a place of childlike, wide-eyed wonder.
R, 113 minutes
Regal Stonefield 14 and IMAX, Violet Crown Cinema
His new film, Baby Driver, is arguably his first film that is neither tribute, pastiche nor adaptation, though it does wear its influences on its sleeve. Characters are named after songs Wright intends to use, lyrics are written on walls as our eponymous Baby walks by, and both the humor and action have the brisk confidence of Wright’s previous output; not as surreal as Spaced, but not as broadcasted as Hot Fuzz, but somewhere in between, just plausible enough to be fun, and outrageous enough to be exciting.
Baby Driver tells the story of Baby (Ansel Elgort), a young man with talent beyond his years—and beyond his maturity. Baby has been an escape-car driver for robberies organized by Doc (Kevin Spacey), not for the thrill or the money, but to repay a debt. He is not a criminal at heart, as we see in the opening scene: As he awaits his crew and cargo from an armed robbery, he’s not waiting in silence or sweating in anticipation, but lip-syncing and drumming along to his iPod. One daring getaway after another brings Baby closer to freedom, and to a life on the road with Debora (Lily James).
There is a lot to enjoy in Baby Driver. The supporting cast is excellent—Jamie Foxx, Jon Hamm, Eiza González, Jon Bernthal, Lanny Joon and Flea make up some of the crew Baby is tasked with bringing to safety, and all sink their teeth into the roles with delight. The soundtrack—always an important player in Wright’s films—is well-studied and full of playful energy, even if it can be a tad on-the-nose, like Beck’s “Debra” or the song that inspired the title (you knew it sounded familiar, didn’t you?).
The star of the show, however, is the action, with Wright drawing on the best car-centric films of the ’60s and ’70s. It’s a genre that doesn’t always get the recognition it deserves, but Wright is clearly a devotee; see Walter Hill’s The Driver, Peter Yates’ Bullitt, even William Friedkin’s The French Connection, and put a typical Wright protagonist in the lead instead of a tough guy. Yet while the film lives in a heightened reality and the characters can be exaggerated, the life of crime is not glamorized; people are shot, people die, and you are meant to feel the weight of it all.
So how does Wright hold up in the world of wholly original filmmaking? Pretty well, with charm and excitement and humor to spare. About the worst thing that can be said about Baby Driver is that it is the least likely of his films to be rewatched, with Shaun, Fuzz and Scott Pilgrim vs. the World in his oeuvre. It’s nothing revolutionary, and you may find yourself wishing for less cutesy stuff and the funny-yet-tedious fight with the final villain in favor of more driving, but you will most certainly not be bored.
Playing this week
Regal Stonefield 14 and IMAX
The Shops at Stonefield, 244-3213
47 Meters Down, All Eyez On Me, Beatriz at Dinner, Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie, Cars 3, Despicable Me 3, The Hero, The House, The Mummy, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales, Transformers: The Last Knight, Wonder Woman
Violet Crown Cinema
200 W. Main St., Downtown Mall, 529-3000
Annie, The Beguiled, Beatriz at Dinner, Cars 3, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, Despicable Me 3, Rough Night, Transformers: The Last Knight, Wonder Woman