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‘Baby Driver’: Things go fast with Baby on board

by Kaori Shoji

Special To The Japan Times

Banzai to fossil fuels! Lots of love to gas-guzzlers! That’s the basic sentiment behind “Baby Driver,” which is all screeching tires and revving engines, unfolding to what has got to be the coolest movie soundtrack of 2017.

Directed by Edgar Wright (“Hot Fuzz,” “Shaun of the Dead”), “Baby Driver” is a throwback to 20th-century car-chase vehicles (pun fully intended) in which the smoking engine reigned supreme and 10-car pileups were beautiful, man. I can picture each and every one of my brothers watching “Baby Driver” starry-eyed, longing for the days when manliness meant one hand on the steering wheel of a customized Mustang and the other on a faulty cigarette lighter. Sunglasses were a must, even in the dark.

Baby Driver
Rating
Run Time 112 mins
Language ENGLISH

Fast cars and retro machismo aren’t the only things that fuel “Baby Driver,” though. Much more stylish and with none of the bombastic self-importance of “The Fast and the Furious” franchise, Wright makes sure there’s a millennial frostiness permeating the whole story. The audience is kept at arm’s length, even as it enthralls and entertains with deadpan seriousness.

“Baby Driver” doesn’t want your love or understanding and main character “Baby” — played by the pale and skinny Ansel Elgort — is never engaging. Dedicated to a cause or out to save the world? Nope, not Baby. Put him in the same room with a passionate do-gooder like Andrew Garfield and the latter may end up weeping from sheer frustration.

What Baby does best — or all he ever seems to want to do — is drive while listening to music. He’s the getaway driver for a band of thieves that includes the swoon-inducing Bats (Jamie Foxx) and Buddy (John Hamm) and is headed up by Doc (Kevin Spacey), the gang is attempting to repay a debt that will never be forgiven (it involves Doc’s Mercedes). Baby isn’t happy about the job but he has got other stuff on his mind, like the car accident that robbed him of his parents when he was a kid and the tinnitus that resulted from that accident, which is why he needs to have music blasting from a pair of earbuds at all times. It’s a soundtrack that is made up of cool tracks from the 20th century and early 2000s, such as Bob and Earl’s “Harlem Shuffle,” Young MC’s “Know How” and Blur’s “Intermission.”

Then Baby meets a waitress named Debora (Lily James) and decides that the straight life may be worth living after all, especially after hearing her sing Carla Thomas’ “B-A-B-Y.” She’s nice, cute and knows Beck’s entire repertoire. They fall for each other hard and fast, and Baby has fantasies of driving away with her in a souped-up Thunderbird as her hair whips in the wind.

If anything’s lacking in “Baby Driver” it’s social awareness. The film is set in present-day Atlanta, so I kept expecting some kind of mention about all the car exhaust, the cancerous secondary smoke from Bats’ cigarettes, or the casual racial slurs and sexism that Hollywood really can’t afford to ignore anymore. Wright swerves clear of any politics, though, likely betting that his audience would prefer basking in the fumes of auto-therapy rather than feel the rub of inconvenient truths. In that way, “Baby Driver” is the kind of bad boy that our mothers (and electric car enthusiasts) are always guilt-tripping us over. Which means you’ll only love it more.