‘Baby Driver’ has cool kid and cooler car chases    

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What a rush! Gear-heads and adrenaline junkies can celebrate authentic car chases in the spirit of “The French Connection” (1971) and “Bullitt” (1968). Without technically advanced CGI effects, “Baby Driver” is as fast and furious as we could stand. Support it with a very original leading character and you have a different kind of movie indeed.

British writer/director Edgar Wright (“Hot Fuzz”) delivers his first American made movie with the story about a young skillful getaway driver. Ansel Elgort (“Divergent” series) steps up his game to play Baby as a very cool dork. Baby is in a continuous dance step and spontaneously engaging in lip-sync to the stirring wall-to-wall music sound track. As the driver, the cons bully Baby for not getting his hands dirty during the heists.

Doc (Kevin Spacey), the crime boss, explains about Baby’s tinnitus, “He had an accident when he was a kid. Still has a hum in the drum, plays music to drown it out. And that’s what makes him the best.” And, the best he is, with a little help from his friends, namely stunt coordinator Robert Nagle and a team of about 50 stunt performers. Note: Much to his chagrin, Elgort was not allowed to perform any of his own stunts.

Baby has been coerced into working for the boss man, who otherwise assembles a new crew for each job. Some of the misfits include Jamie Foxx (“Ray”) as the psychologically deranged “Bats,” Jon Hamm (“Mad Men”) as the proficient and emotionless Buddy,” his main squeeze “Darling” (Eiza González) and the foolish goon JD (Lanny Joon).

Spacey displays his typical “House of Cards” style of intimidation, but Elgort’s breakaway role should open up a whole new set of career possibilities. Hamm is the only actor in the cast specifically chosen from the outset for his role, but it’s Foxx who plays the part so well that he’s actually terrifying in every scene. In a rare tribute, it was reported that Foxx made certain to watch attentively as Spacey filmed each of his scenes.

From the beginning, we assume Baby is not a real criminal. We learn that he made some mistakes that put him in this situation. Baby is devoted to Joseph, his deaf foster father, played by CJ Jones (deaf in real life). Now, Buddy has only one more job and he can spend time with his spirited new girlfriend, Deborah (Lily James, “Downton Abbey”).

When Buddy tells Deborah he drives for a living, she asks, “Oh, like a chauffeur? Anyone I’d know?” Baby replies, “I hope not.” The action, violence and hard rock numbers are non-stop, which can be exhilarating, exhausting or both. These aren’t silly “Dukes of Hazard” car chases, but seriously intense life or death pursuits with some crazy thugs.

It could be called intelligent pandemonium, but also could be considered a relentless thrashing. Although there is instant chemistry between Ansel Elgort and Lily James, not everyone might be able to identify with these young and somewhat odd characters. Even the sporadic humor is overwhelmed by the viciousness and cruelty.

In some ways it’s easy to wow an audience with exotic cars or muscle machines, but Baby does it all in a Suburu, Chevy Avalanche, Buick sedan and Mitsubishi. Nobody writes songs about them. Speaking of songs, a few featured in the 30-plus song soundtrack are “B-A-B-Y” (Carla Thomas), “Brighton Rock” (Queen), “Hocus Pocus” (Focus) and, of course Simon & Garfunkel’s “Baby Driver” during the end credits.

“Baby Driver” is 113 minutes and rated R for strong violence, language and intense action. Baby is confident, but sometimes confidence is just the feeling you have before you understand the situation. He’s a criminal, in deep over his head, but we root for him anyway. Not sure if the story is that original, but the approach is refreshing, mostly because it’s not another Marvel or DC Comics sequel or reboot.

There was a recent commercial about advanced technology for cars that can park themselves and even drive themselves. While watching the car perform, the announcer proudly proclaims, “This isn’t one of those cars!” Now, with honest, old school stunts, writer/director Edgar Wright can now proudly proclaim, “This isn’t one of those movies!”

Ron’s Rating: B+ Leigh’s Rating: D-

 

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Ron & Leigh Martel