After wisely walking away from the car crash of Marvel’s 2015 film Ant-Man, Shaun of the Dead director Edgar Wright is back in the fast lane with his most thrillingly cinematic romp. A romantic musical disguised as a car-chase thriller, Baby Driver combines the over-cranked action fantasies of Hot Fuzz with the poptastic sensibilities of Scott Pilgrim vs the World. At its centre is Ansel Elgort’s eponymous getaway driver, who uses earphones to drown out the “hum-in-the-drum” of tinnitus (the result of a childhood accident) and orchestrates his life to carefully chosen iPod playlists. Whether he’s burning rubber or fixing a peanut butter sandwich (“right up to the edges”), this former joyrider spins his wheels and records with the same infectious exuberance. Think An American in Paris meets The French Connection, or Walter Hill’s The Driver as remade by Baz Luhrmann – it really is that much of a blast.
Accidentally indebted to smooth criminal Doc (Kevin Spacey), Baby is always “one more job” away from freedom. At home he cares for foster father Joseph (CJ Jones), who listens to music with his fingertips, and from whom Baby has learned signing and lip-reading – invaluable skills. At work he’s surrounded by wild cards: Buddy and Darling (Jon Hamm and Eiza González), a latter-day Bonnie and Clyde with matching his and hers tattoos; Bats (Jamie Foxx), a loose cannon who claims the monopoly on “mental problems”; Jon Bernthal’s ever-gruff Griff; rocker Flea’s Eddie No-Nose (formerly Eddie the Nose – don’t ask); and Lanny Joon’s JD, who “puts the Asian in home invasion”.
Wright directs with the confidence of someone who can afford to pay fanboy homage to his antecedents
The only sure thing in Baby’s life is his growing love for waitress Debora (Lily James), who does indeed “look like a zebra” in her black and white diner uniform, and who sings “B-A-B-Y” to herself as she waits tables, dreaming of heading west “in a car I can’t afford, with a plan I don’t have”. The ghosts of Tony Scott’s True Romance and Jim McBride’s Breathless (and the movies that inspired those films) haunt their whirlwind romance, a pulp fiction mash-up of comic-strip tropes, fired by palpable human chemistry.