Director: Edgar Wright
Cast: Ansel Elgort, Kevin Spacey, Jamie Foxx, Lily James, Jon Hamm, Eiza González
Running Time: 112 minutes
Release Date: June 28
Passion projects are a funny thing. It is often fascinating to witness the trajectory of such cases, from the kernel of an idea to potential development hell to glorious success or career-killing disaster. A middle ground exists, though, one born of frustration and ultimately realised as significantly flawed. This can still be compelling, however: Martin Scorsese’s Silence is tough and challenging, but that’s the point, while Michael Cimino’s Heaven’s Gate makes for a fascinating case study in excess and retrospective criticism.
Long racing around the mind of kinetic filmmaker Edgar Wright, Baby Driver emerges as a curious, arguably entirely pointless misfire. Originally conceived as far back as 1994, this tale of crime, cars and cool quipping seems the perfect vehicle for the writer/director to stand up and shake off the dirt accrued from his brief, troublesome stint calling the shots on Ant-Man. Wright himself recently confirmed he was happy to play ball and make a Marvel movie, but the studio wasn’t especially interested in making an Edgar Wright film.
While shooting a sideways glance in the direction of The Driver, Drive and Gone in 60 Seconds among others, Baby Driver is certainly a Wright joint. That much is evident early on, as rapid-fire editing, a smart soundtrack and fast-paced dialogue zip across the screen with such giddy determination that you wonder if he – and his audience – can possibly keep up with it. Baby Driver centres around the eponymous Baby (Ansel Elgort), a taciturn and ludicrously-skilled getaway driver. His precise, split-second movements are synced to a slick soundtrack playing constantly in his ears to drown out the tinnitus incurred as a child following a collision of devastating consequence. That’s a lot of sketching, and Baby is a character with a capital C, surrounded by similarly showy figures that suffer due to a contrasting lack of commitment.
Baby works for a crime boss (Kevin Spacey, doing the Kevin Spacey thing) ferrying around various villains with names like Buddy (Jon Hamm, miscast to the point that a cameo-ing Jon Bernthal feels especially wasted), Darling (Eiza González, forgettable) and Bats, who gives Jamie Foxx the chance to essentially reprise his role from Horrible Bosses.
There’s also Deborah, the object of Baby’s desire and the personification of a hopeful future, played with agreeable sweetness and light by Lily James. Deborah is barely a person, sauntering into Baby’s life because the script demands her to, behaving in that wildly unrealistic Hollywood meet-cute way and eventually amounting to little more than a damsel in distress. Deborah is Baby Driver in microcosm: She’s so ‘first draft’ that you wonder just why Wright was so determined to bring this story to the screen.
Once the players are introduced, Wright takes his foot off the pedal and allows for breathing space, but his script never gets out of first gear. There are plenty of little individual moments to enjoy here, but things never fully connect. The film’s lack of plot is odd, and the pacing off as a result. Baby has a tragic backstory, but he’s never really relatable. It’s difficult to care about him or anybody around him. Reluctant or not, dude’s a criminal and his taste in music and penchant for breaking into dance routines aren’t half as endearing as Wright seems to believe. Elsewhere, characters wildly contradict themselves for no good reason, while the tone veers from kitsch bubble-gum optimism to harsh violence with whiplash-inducing effect.
By the time an unnecessary and awkward coda screeches to a halt, you’re left musing once more on the nature of passion projects, the established talent, wit and invention of Edgar Wright, and why this was worthy of his time and energy.