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"BABY DRIVER"
(2017) (Ansel Elgort, Kevin Spacey) (R)


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QUICK TAKE:
Action/Drama: A young man hopes for a new life with a waitress he's just met, all while serving as the getaway driver for a criminal mastermind and those executing his heists.
PLOT:
Baby (ANSEL ELGORT) is a young man whose parents were killed in an auto accident when he was a child. That left him with a bad case of tinnitus which he offsets by always listening to music. That habit also helps with his driving skills, something he puts to good use while working off a debt to criminal kingpin Doc (KEVIN SPACEY) as the getaway driver for a variety of heists the latter orchestrates.

Doc never uses the same crime team combination twice, and thus Baby ends up working with the likes of lovers Buddy (JON HAMM) and Darling (ELIZA GONZALEZ) who seem to enjoy his company, as well as Bats (JAMIE FOXX) and Griff (JON BERNTHAL) who don't.

When he's not working as the getaway driver or helping care for his older and deaf foster dad, Joe (CJ JONES), Baby likes to hang out in the diner where his mom once worked, and it's there that he meets Debora (LILY JAMES), a new waitress who catches his eye and vice-versa. As a budding romance develops between the two, Baby believes he has just one last job to do for Doc and the two can then get away from their current lives. But when Doc comes calling again, Baby fully realizes that Debora's well-being could be in jeopardy whether he accepts the job or not.

OUR TAKE: 6.5 out of 10
I've always been amazed -- but also somewhat jealous, I must admit -- by child prodigies, be they of the music, mathematics or any other kind. And that's because while some of us might struggle mightily for years or decades trying to achieve a mediocre level of success at playing the piano or some other skill set, it seems to come naturally to these sorts of kids.

At the same time, I'm all for pushing the rest of the kids -- at least to an agreeable degree -- to learn new skills so that they're used to setting goals (and achieving them) and thus are better suited to getting out into and surviving in an increasingly competitive world.

That said, I'm completely against letting babies drive, regardless of however proficient they may appear, mainly because there's already too much immature behavior on the roads and, let's face the facts, babies are simply too short to reach the pedals AND see over the dashboard.

Accordingly, I wasn't thrilled about seeing the new movie "Baby Driver," even if it was helmed by director Edgar Wright who's gained something of a cultish following after helming the likes of "Shaun of the Dead," "Hot Fuzz" and "The World's End." And then I realized it wasn't a spin-off of the reviled "Baby Geniuses" movies and instead was about a getaway driver who just so happens to sport the first name of Baby.

Like Wright's other flicks, this latest offering is highly stylized, but in a fun rather than pretentious or showy fashion, complete with an equally entertaining soundtrack that, no pun intended, literally and figuratively drives the plot and its protagonist forward.

It's the story of Baby (Ansel Elgort in an unusual performance that will likely divide viewers between those believing it's cool while others might find it restrained, at least in terms of emotion), who owes a debt to a criminal mastermind by the name of Doc (Kevin Spacey, doing what he does best when in curt power mode). To pay that off, the young man must serve as the getaway driver for the various criminal schemes Doc concocts and that utilize front-line criminals played by the likes of Jon Hamm, Eliza Gonzalez, Jamie Foxx and Jon Bernthal among a few others.

All of them like Baby for his seemingly innate getaway skills -- impressively staged and shot by Wright and cinematographer Bill Pope respectively -- but half are put off by his apparent aloofness and him always listening to music via his ear buds. But such tunes not only help him drive in a sort of turbo fashion -- a point driven home when he's without that and must resort to something appropriate on a car radio -- but they also help drown out the tinnitus that's plagued him since he was injured as a child in an auto accident that took the lives of his bickering parents.

Baby believes he's done with his debt after the last job, which is fine with him since he's all set to get out of Dodge and head somewhere -- anywhere -- with a young waitress (Lily James) who's captured his fancy and vice-versa. But then Doc comes knocking with an offer he can't refuse, all of which leads to the amped up action and violence that takes over the film's final act.

Which is a bit of a shame because everything leading up to that -- while still action-filled and viscerally exciting at times -- comes off as more restrained and thus more interesting and engaging as we get to know the characters all through the prism of a visual and storytelling aura that's too cool for school.

For me, the third act simply isn't as imaginative and clever and instead boils down to hardcore violence that might make sense plot-wise, but isn't as entertaining as what preceded it.

The performances are decent across the board, but the direction, cinematography, stunts, and soundtrack are the true star performers that make the film a fun ride. If only all involved had simply pressed down smoothly on the plot accelerator rather than slammed the pedal to the medal to conclude the story, this could have been a classic heist flick. Instead, "Baby Driver" comes off as "only" good and thus rates as a 6.5 out of 10.




Reviewed June 22, 2017 / Posted June 28, 2017


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