It’s possible to like a film, and, more importantly, to think it was good, and yet still be somewhat disappointed with it. That’s the odd situation I find myself in with Baby Driver, an entertaining and competently-made work that, given the man responsible for it, didn’t quite meet my expectations.
The movie is written and directly by Edgar Wright, one of the most unique and gifted auteurs of this generation. His Three Flavours Cornetto trilogy — encompassing 2004’s Shaun of the Dead, 2007’s Hot Fuzz, and 2013’s The World’s End — is a masterpiece of comedic genre send ups, not to mention a showcase for marvelous and creative editing and camera work, clever dialogue, engaging set pieces, and a brilliant use of music in the celluloid medium. Moreover, his under-appreciated Scott Pilgrim vs. The World — a truly one-of-a-kind, zeitgeist-capturing, cheerfully subversive work — is in a rare class of singularly great comic book adaptations, and even to this day, it remains one of only a handful of films that successful incorporate video game concepts into a narrative. And while his involvement with 2015’s Ant-Man came to a seemingly abrupt end in pre-production, I’m convinced that every good thing about that movie came from him.
Clearly, I have a very high opinion of this man, which is what makes Baby Driver so challenging to evaluate. While his earlier work was subversive and groundbreaking, this time around Wright has given the audience a shockingly straight forward, conventional picture.
And that’s not to say Baby Driver is bad; because it isn’t. There’s a lot to like here. The movie’s premise of a get-away driver who needs to listen to music to stay focused provides a good basis for some fun car chases set to catchy retro music (although this gimmick of films prominently featuring old-school tunes is admittedly starting to get old for me now that every other movie in the post-Guardians of the Galaxy age is also filling its soundtrack with throw-back hits); our central character and his love interest are instantly endearing and the supporting cast — including Jon Hamm, Jamie Foxx, and Kevin Spacey — give great performances; and some of Wright’s trademark witty dialogue and sense of humor do make it into the picture to get you to grin a few times. From a normal film critique perspective, the only bad things I can really say about this movie are that it’s sometimes a little too predictable, and the last act is a bit messy narratively; but those honestly don’t bring the picture down all that much; and otherwise this is a very solidly crafted film.
In short, Baby Driver is a nice little action comedy, but that’s all it is. While watching the film, I kept waiting for the winks to the audience to start as the plot began to deconstruct its genre in some ingenious way, but it never happened; I kept waiting for some visually dazzling, never-before-seen sequence to happen that totally revolutionized how a car-chase could be shown on film, but it never happened; I kept waiting for Wright’s creativity and storytelling prowess to take me somewhere I hadn’t been before at the movies; but it just never happened.
I guess I just have to accept that this is the movie where Wright plays it straight and by the numbers. Perhaps he’s earned the right to take it easy on this film; and I should probably just be thankful that it’s good when so many other pictures these days aren’t. But I can’t help but feel a little let down here. I just wanted a little more.
Still, I would absolutely recommend this picture. It’s a fun movie, miles ahead of some of the other films in release at the moment; and those of you who are less versed in Edgar Wright’s filmography may very well have no issues with its perceived ambition, while those of you who are may not share my issues with how it compares to his other work. Regardless of my expectations for the movie, this is certainly a worthwhile flick.