This is one of those movies that critics are all going to be completely wrong on. It’s an Edgar Wright film, and we all adore him. It’s got an amazing soundtrack, and cool actors. So the critics just think it’s the hippest thing since Pulp Fiction or Trainspotting. The problem is…this movie wants to be like those pictures, but it’s a mess. It might be the most disappointing movie of the year for me. That’s because I love British director Edgar Wright’s body of work. His Cornetto trilogy (Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, The World’s End) is terrific. A movie of his that bombed — Scott Pilgrim vs. the World — was amazing. It cracked my Top 10 list in 2010. Even his superhero movie that didn’t work for the Comic-Con crowd wasn’t so bad (Ant-Man).
Ansel Elgort, the actor the teen girls love because of The Fault in Our Stars and the Divergent series, is called Baby. The name is not as annoying as it was in Dirty Dancing when Jennifer Grey’s character was called Baby. This is the world of crime, and the mastermind behind it all (Kevin Spacey) doesn’t want real names used. Since the character is young, the name fits. It also helps when they want to work the Simon & Garfunkel song in.
Spacey plays the same character we’ve seen him do countless times. He’s bossing everyone around, and in a manner similar to his movie Usual Suspects, he never uses the same people for heists. Until…he does, for a reason that doesn’t make any sense.
The idea of a getaway driver that’s amazing behind the wheel is intriguing. The set up for that worked better in Drive (Ryan Gosling), although that was disappointing, too.
The movie starts with a scene that is supposed to be cool. Baby is in a car, with earbuds on and robbers are fleeing the bank, as he goes to his playlist of songs. He can’t drive, or do anything really, until he starts a specific song. Many are claiming this is such an original concept. I think it was done a bit better in the 1991 bomb Hudson Hawk (Bruce Willis). They used songs when they committed crime because of the length of the song, and it was their way of synchronizing watches. In this, Baby gets to lip synch certain parts of the song, which has been done so often in movies. And once he evades every law enforcement officer chasing him, he keeps the tunes playing as he goes on a coffee run for Doc (Spacey). My wife asked, “Why would he go out right after the crime, when he could easily be seen?”
Well, the answer to that is, so he can dance around lip synching another song as if he were Travolta in Saturday Night Fever in the ‘70s; or Jon Cryer doing Otis Redding to impress Molly Ringwald in Pretty in Pink in the mid-80s. Baby can walk right by a mural on a wall that fits the lyric or instrumentation of the song perfectly. And we’re all supposed to think how genius this all is.
I’m also wondering why we should be so enamored with car chases. As I’ve said before, we have to be into the premise of the film. Otherwise, why not just watch junk like Fast and the Furious or Smokey and the Bandit 3?
Unlike Wright’s other movies, which were filled with terrific laughs, there may have only been two times I chuckled in this (one being a moment when Doc catches Baby using dialogue from Monsters, Inc. while they’re conversing).
There’s a romance that doesn’t work. It’s a diner waitress named Debora (the gorgeous Lily James). They bond over a song she’s singing, and songs with her name (that gives the interesting soundtrack an opportunity to use the tunes of Beck and T-Rex). As a music lover, I did enjoy that conversation, until it felt like the way screenwriters talk, not real people (“I want to head west, in a car I can’t afford, with a plan I don’t have.”) but it made me wonder a few things. Why would she fall for this guy? He’s not all that charming, and she does find out he’s running with some bad dudes. Second, I wondered if the filmmakers even realized that the way Baby’s character is written, he comes across as a guy with Asperger’s. He’s anti-social, overly focused on music and nothing else. It wasn’t their intent, but it made the whole thing weird. It also doesn’t help that they want us to think he’s the baddest, coolest guy in the world. Yet…in the second half of the movie were supposed to feel sorry for him, and hope he can get away from the evil Doc and live his own life. They feel that throwing in this backstory about his parents dying in a car crash would garner sympathy. It just made me wonder why he wouldn’t have the opposite reaction — never wanting to drive. Also, it just doesn’t work that way. He is a bank robber, involved in crimes that sometimes resulted in the death of others. Even if he was doing it because he was in a bind, or because he has a wonderful foster father he’s trying to take care of, doesn’t give a criminal a pass..
Two talented actors (Jamie Foxx, Jon Hamm) were both over-acting as intimidating criminals. Another (Eiza Gonzalez), is given nothing to do but be the eye candy with a gun.
Allison King (Midnight Special) plays a teller at the post office, and she was okay in a few scenes
It’s really hard to wrap your mind around Spacey, though. He can pull off all these elaborate heists, but…if he never uses the same crew twice (except when he does), how does that help him? They all meet in his same warehouse office space, so they know where he is. Wouldn’t he be meeting them at a diner or different location each time (did he not see Reservoir Dogs?).
So when everything starts going south, and we want Baby to just grab his baby from the diner and head west in a car they can’t afford, but can steal…I can’t help but think about his confidence early on, and how he seemed to enjoy his life. This movie doesn’t do any scenes to establish how these characters really are. It’s just rehashing stuff that’s been done in other movies, and relying on an ultra cool soundtrack to help tell the story or rock out. Hey…it worked for Guardians and the Galaxy, so why wouldn’t Wright do it?
That soundtrack gives us Jon Spencer (Bellbottoms), The Damned (Neat Neat Neat), the underrated Jonathan Richman and Modern English (for those that don’t know, they’re the musicians from There’s Something About Mary), Martha and the Vandellas, Steve Miller, the Commodores, Golden Earring, Young MC, and more. It gets extra credit for using Queen’s “Brighton Rock” but…I take away that credit for using the Dutch band Focus’ song “Hocus Pocus.” A terrific rock tune with yodeling, but…we just saw that song used a few years ago in the Robocop remake.
If you’ve got this young kid that’s an amazing driver, it might help to see how he’s plotting this all out. For example, using another Ryan Gosling movie as an example, The Place Beyond the Pines. He’s a motorcycle stunt driver, and the way they plan the escape (quick fancy riding..to a waiting 18-wheeler around the corner in which he can hide the bike inside), is interesting.
In Premium Rush, where Miles Teller is a bike messenger, we see him looking two blocks ahead, and planning for the taxi door that’s going to open, or the shopper with bags that will walk out in front of him. Now, that wasn’t a good movie, but it was at least interesting to see him plot it all out so quickly. In this movie, we just have to assume that Baby is such an amazing driver, he can just plug in a funky tune from the Incredible Bongo Band, and that’s all he needs. No obstacles can stop him.
I wish this Baby would’ve just been put in a corner. It doesn’t work for me. It was like Wright was making one long music video, or trying to impress Quentin Tarantino.
But don’t take my word for it. My wife liked it more than I did, and critics and audiences are enjoying it, so you probably will too.
I’m giving it 1 ½ stars out of 5.