"BABY DRIVER" — 3½ stars — Ansel Elgort, Jon Hamm, Elza Gonzalez, Kevin Spacey, Lily James, Jamie Foxx; R (violence and language throughout); in general release
“Baby Driver” is a symphony of style, sound and story. Moments after it begins, a red turbocharged Subaru is dancing through downtown Atlanta, leading police cruisers on a manic, destructive chase that feels like the spiritual successor of 1980’s “The Blues Brothers.”
The driver, Baby — played by Ansel Elgort, from “The Fault in Our Stars” and the ill-fated Divergent series — is a cherub-faced orphan who constantly plays music to drown out the ringing in his ear left over from the tragic car crash that took his parents. Whether he’s driving getaway for bank robbers or picking up their coffee, Baby glides through life to the beat of a constant soundtrack.
But right when you think this might be another “cheer for the bad guys” movie, we learn the truth: Baby is working under duress. He owes a massive debt to a local underworld kingpin named Doc (Kevin Spacey), and until that debt is paid, Baby’s preternatural driving skills are on criminal retainer.
That, among other reasons, is why Baby instantly falls for Debora (Lily James), the pretty waitress at the local diner who just wants to hop in a car, put on some great music and drive west into the sunset. It’s love at first sight, a fairy tale of a relationship, and the real world just won’t allow it.
So Baby continues to tolerate his miserable existence, surrounded by foul-mouthed, violent criminals like Bats (Jamie Foxx), a self-aware lunatic, and Buddy and Darling (Jon Hamm and Eiza González, respectively), a 21st-century Bonnie and Clyde with a PDA problem. At one point, Baby pays off his debt, but when Doc makes it clear that he has no intention of letting go of his lucky charm of a driver, Baby realizes he’s going to have to force his freedom.
“Baby Driver” comes from director Edgar Wright, who helped make Simon Pegg a familiar face in sharp, campy action-comedies like “Shaun of the Dead” and “Hot Fuzz.” Pegg isn’t along for this ride, unfortunately, but Wright’s kinetic visual style is on full display. “Baby Driver” is one of those rare movies that matches its style to its story, rather than let the former overwhelm the latter.
Its soundtrack is staggering, easily doubling the track list of a usual movie, creating a wall-to-wall wave of music that Wright uses to tie together the beats and twists of his effort. Heavy on ’60s and ’70s soul, “Baby Driver’s” set list also draws from artists as diverse as Beck, Queen and Jonathan Richman and the Modern Lovers.
For a movie that has such a fairy tale feel, “Baby Driver” never strays far from its harsh reality, and retains a peculiar moral center. To get out from under Doc’s thumb, Baby has to take the law into his own hands, and unlike in a lesser film, Wright makes him face the consequences.
There are lots of movies out there with great soundtracks and great car chases, but “Baby Driver” manages to combine all of its elements of style and substance in a way that is unique, creative and very fun. It’s pretty rough around the edges — mostly thanks to the constant profanity coming from Baby’s “co-workers” — but if you have to wait a while for “Baby Driver” to show up on basic cable, it will be a worthy wait. Just do yourself a favor and pick up the soundtrack right now.
"Baby Driver" is rated R for violence and language throughout; running time: 90 minutes.