MovieMonday: Baby Driver

What you see in this preview is what you get in the movie.  A young guy named Baby is the getaway driver for a gang of gun-toting robbers. He wants to step away, but he can’t.  It’s complicated.

This is not an unusual plot concept, but its execution here sets it apart from many action films, which by definition are shoot-em-ups, typically with car chases and high body counts.

“Baby Driver” is different in that it is hip and stylish.

In the opening scene, Baby drives a bright red Subaru occupied by three fleeing thugs.  He dodges police cruisers, executes U-turns on freeways and eludes at least one helicopter on his way to dropping the car in a quiet parking structure.

Baby, an unemotional but talented driver with excellent reflexes, manages the escape to the accompaniment of “Bellbottoms,” a grinding 2010 song by The John Spencer Blues Explosion.  The scene’s choreography would make an automotive Bob Fosse proud.

Next we see another side of Baby.  He picks up coffee and moves rhythmically down a city street as his ever-present iPod plays Bob & Earl’s smooth “Harlem Shuffle” in a long, lovely single-camera take. It’s great cinematography if you like that sort of thing, which I do.

Yes, Baby lives to a sound track.  This relates to his back story, a sad one, and is the first point on which he connects with the sweet waitress whom he comes to admire.

The screenwriter/director, Edgar Wright, has done a nice job introducing a distinctive vibe in what ultimately becomes a traditional action film.  My suspicion is that he liked the energetic 1970 Simon & Garfunkel song and wrote a story to use the same title.

As a viewer, I preferred the earlier parts of the film, but the action genre and its fans require a certain amount of gunplay and a certain body count to be credible.  The film’s plot inevitably degenerates into the kind of extended interpersonal conflict necessary to satisfy these needs.

To be fair, the violent deterioration of the gang is managed well in the plot, particularly with the introduction of Bats, played by Jamie Foxx, who upsets the harmony in the bad-guy team for whom Baby is the passive sidekick.

The film’s script must have been well-received because, in addition to Foxx and Jon Hamm of “Mad Men” fame, it attracted two other prominent actors to anchor its story. These are:

–Ansel Elgort as Baby, whose previous fame relies on playing a noble, innocent, dying-of-cancer teenager in “The Fault in Our Stars,” based on a young adult novel of the same title.

–Kevin Spacey as Doc, who runs the gang and organizes its heists.  Spacey is famous now as amoral, power-hungry Francis Underwood in the interminable “House of Cards” Netflix television series.  He will have right of first refusal in any future film involving an evil CEO or Wall Streeter.

Yes, it’s typecasting.  But it works.


Note

“Baby Driver” comes with an important playlist.  Here it is:

Jon Spencer Blues Explosion – ‘Bellbottoms’
Bob & Earl – ‘Harlem Shuffle’
Jonathan Richman & The Modern Lovers – ‘Egyptian Reggae’
Googie Rene – ‘Smokey Joe’s La La’
The Beach Boys – ‘Let’s Go Away For Awhile’
Carla Thomas – ‘B-A-B-Y’
Kashmere Stage Band – ‘Kashmere’
Dave Brubeck – ‘Unsquare Dance’
The Damned – ‘Neat Neat Neat’
The Commodores – ‘Easy (Single Version)’
T. Rex – ‘Debora’
Beck – ‘Debra’
Incredible Bongo Band – ‘Bongolia’
The Detroit Emeralds – ‘Baby Let Me Take You (in My Arms)’
Alexis Korner – ‘Early In The Morning’
David McCallum – ‘The Edge’
Martha and the Vandellas – ‘Nowhere To Run’
The Button Down Brass – ‘Tequila’
Sam & Dave – ‘When Something Is Wrong With My Baby’
Brenda Holloway – ‘Every Little Bit Hurts’
Blur – ‘Intermission’
Focus – ‘Hocus Pocus (Original Single Version)’
Golden Earring – ‘Radar Love (1973 Single Edit)’
Barry White – ‘Never, Never Gone Give Ya Up’
Young MC – ‘Know How’
Queen – ‘Brighton Rock’
Sky Ferreira – ‘Easy’
Simon & Garfunkel – ‘Baby Driver’
Kid Koala – ‘Was He Slow (Credit Roll Version)’
Danger Mouse (featuring Run The Jewels and Big Boi) – ‘Chase Me’

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