Baby Driver ★★½

This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.

This review may contain spoilers.

A crushing disappointment really*, all the more so as I appear to be out of step with the rest of the internet on its lousiness. Wright’s way too accomplished a filmmaker for this to be a total wash but the film strives for a tricky confection of tones and what it arrives at is curdled. If HOT FUZZ took a comical premise and populates it with deadly serious characters, this tries the inverse, setting the film in a world of violence, drug abuse, and arm twisting gangsters but casts it with aimless dreamers and cartoonish concepts of criminals who spend as much time mugging for the camera as they're do shotgunning people to death. This is my first experience with Ansel Elgort (I somehow missed the 4 young adult adaptations he did with Shailene Woodley) but he’s not up to playing a character that has been conceived as Ryan Gosling’s soulful, still waters run deep, getaway driver in DRIVE meets Ryan Gosling’s wide-eyed, hopeless romantic and aspiring musician in LA LA LAND (to paraphrase Chris Rock, when you want Ryan Gosling and all you can get is Ansel Elgort… wait!) Film wants it both ways, having characters question Baby’s mental capacities (these are the kind of characters who say “retarded” instead of “on the spectrum”) only to have him flip the script and dazzle them with his retention and talent behind the wheel. But there’s something undeniably “off’ about Baby and the film refuses to wrestle with it, treating his compulsory behavior as a quirk triggered by a childhood tragedy or worse, as charming and whimsical (not sure Gene Kelly himself could sell the amount of sashaying through the streets in the film as anything other than mortifying) when to mine eyes, it’s creepy and unhinged. To that point, a major bit of conflict late in the film hinges upon Baby surreptitiously recording people to sample and edit into incredibly lame dance tracks, which would be enough to get his teeth kicked in even if the subjects of the tapes *weren't* his accomplices in a criminal enterprise. What a card, right?

Nor was I particularly moved by the film’s chaste romance between Elgort and Lilly James’ greasy spoon waitress, who compensates for his complete blankness by turning up her MPDG routine to 11 (the character has no agency or outside life beyond waiting for Baby to ring her up at work and whisk her away on adventures). Wright stages his action with the same level of precision, bravado and visual humor as he does in his earlier, better films but what’s missing here is ballast; for all the onscreen death there are no consequences for our heroes as they’re being tormented by the cast of HORRIBLE BOSSES. And when consequences finally do catch up to these characters the film is distressingly quick to brush them aside (not sure what’s more egregious: spending the last five minutes on random side characters giving a direct address to the camera to tell us how wonderful a person Baby is, in spite of his criminal behavior, or restoring his hearing almost immediately after spending the entire film establishing that he knows sign language). I'll almost certainly see worse films this summer but probably not a bigger waste of talent.

*I never went back and logged SHAUN OF THE DEAD or SCOTT PILGRIM but by my informal calculations, Wright would be averaging a none-too-shabby 4.25 stars for his first 4-films which made him as close to a sure thing as I have for modern auteurs.