PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — As action thrillers go, Baby Driver is intriguing and audacious and distinctive.
At least for the first two acts.
But in the third act, it drives so far over the top and off a cliff, it leaves a bad taste that almost obliterates the effect the film was having on you until its downfall.
Ansel Elgort, who made such a strong impression on moviegoers in The Fault in our Stars, stars as Baby, a young getaway driver who survived the childhood car crash that took the lives of his parents and now lives with his hearing-impaired foster father (CJ Jones) and, whether he wants to or not, works for crime boss Doc, played by Kevin Spacey, to whom he owes money.
There is no better driver around: this kid is totally focused when he’s behind the wheel and, while always sporting earbuds, can maneuver a vehicle like nobody’s business.
And he always listens to music while he drives because of a condition he has that the music drowns out.
The premise of Baby Driver is both generic and familiar, but the style applied to it, especially in the early going, is fresh and unusual.
For one thing, crime dramas don’t come much more musical than this one, which seems edited, paced, and structured to accommodate its wall-to-wall soundtrack, with nearly all the action timed to match musical beats.
For example, the movie opens – electrifingly so — with a “musical heist,” after which we are treated to the titular protagonist merely taking a “musical walk” as he gets coffee for his colleagues: Buddy (Jon Hamm), Griff (Jon Bernthal), Bats (Jamie Foxx), and Darling (Eliza Gonzalez).
This synchronized approach charms us and impresses us with its execution.
But…and here comes the but.
It still doesn’t engage us with the characters – including Debora (Lily James), the waitress Baby meets and immediately falls for — or carry us along forcefully to the film’s overly conventional and grotesquely violent climax.
Perhaps most glaringly, at no point is the central romantic relationship between Baby and Debora particularly convincing, and their behavior becomes downright preposterous in the late going.
British director Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, The World’s End, Scott Pilgrim vs. The World), possessor of a comedy-dominant resume, shifts into another gear and tries something a little different that calls for but doesn’t depend on the director’s comedic command.
Pity that the more-is-less gunplay, perhaps intended as black comedy, registers as childishly extravagant.
So we’ll steer clear of 2 stars out of 4. Baby Driver is a gas until it runs out of gas.