Friday, July 7, 2017

Baby Driver

Edgar Wright's crime film, Baby Driver (2017) turns out to be nothing special.  This is too bad for a couple reasons.  First, Wright has directed some amusing and witty films, most notably the zombie picture Shaun of the Dead.  Unlike that film, and, indeed, all of Wright's other movies, Baby Driver takes itself much too seriously -- the last half of the film is resolutely humorless, literal-minded, and relentlessly violent.  There's one good joke in the movie but it comes very early:  a grotesquely tattooed bad guy has the letters HAT inked onto his throat; someone asks him "Hat?" and the bad guy replies:  "Well, it used to say HATE but when I started looking for a job I had the E covered up.  Who doesn't like hats?"  This exchange is as close as Baby Driver gets to comedy.  The movie's second deficiency is that the picture doesn't pay off on what it promises in the first reel -- the hero, Baby, is a semi-autistic teenage kid who is a whiz as a "wheel-man" (that is, a getaway driver); he's hyper-kinetic and we see him dance down a city street carrying a tray of coffee, as lithe and athletic and goofy as Donald O'Connor in Singin' in the Rain -- his most routine movements have a balletic beauty.  The movie has a vibrant sound-track and, for a moment, we hope that the picture is going to be a musical -- perhaps, the car chases will make the vehicles dance in time to the film's Top 40 pop tunes and, maybe, the hero will tap-dance through the film like an idiot-savant Fred Astaire.  But, alas, nothing like this happens and the movie devolves into standard issue car chases and over-long, absurdly bloody gun battles.  The picture's uneasy shifts in tone are disorienting -- at first, the film seems like a sardonic and clever movie musical, then, it turns into a nasty film noir complete with bat-shit crazy villains and ranting crime bosses.  Poor innocent Baby doesn't want to drive any more -- he accidentally stole a car containing the criminal mastermind's money and, so, now he has to work as a getaway driver for the villain (Kevin Spacey).  But Baby is a gentle soul and doesn't like violence -- that is, until the idiotic last two reels when he starts gunning people down and using his car as a lethal battering ram.  Blue lives don't much matter in this film -- the cops are crooked and on the payroll of Spacey's criminal mastermind and, so, at the film's climax, whole platoons of them can be blithely murdered in poorly edited and confusingly shot gun battles.  Jon Hamm plays a bad guy who is like the Ever-ready bunny -- he keeps getting shot and mangled in car crashes but, like Frankenstein's monster or the Terminator, continues his crusade to kill the hero.  (He takes a lickin' but keeps on tickin'.)  Jamie Foxx is convincingly menacing as a vicious thug, but his psychopathic violence seems to belong in another picture -- something darker and better than this popcorn genre piece.  There are a few clever twists to the plot but, by and large, it's nihilistic garbage -- a collage of action sequences stitched together from earlier and much better films by Walter Hill and Michael Mann.  (There's a sly homage to Walter Hill -- we hear his voice as the translator for Baby's foster father, an old black man who is a deaf-mute and who speaks by sign language.) A lot of the picture makes only marginal sense, although generally we can decipher who is being killed although, often, the motives for the slaughter are unclear.  Oddly enough the best thing in the movie is a foot-chase -- this is much more exciting because vastly more believable and persuasive than all the  screeching tires and escapes down the wrong side of the freeway in the third-rate car chase sequences.  The foot-race redeems the picture for a few minutes and restores the film's witty and cleverly designed choreography from the film's first reel.  But, alas, the wit ceases when the kid commandeers a car and drives it through another implausible road-race to yet another shoot-out.

On the night that I saw Baby Driver, I caught up with a couple episodes of American Gods, the TV series on STARZ based on the Neil Gaiman novel.  As with Twin Peaks, Fargo, and shows like Veep and Louis C.K., American Gods is vastly superior to almost anything you are likely to see in a movie theater this summer -- it's a truism but worth repeating:  the best things in film right now are happening on your Tv set; shows like Twin Peaks, American Gods, and Fargo are far better written, better acted and more inventive as well as more challenging, and much more powerful than something like Baby Driver.

No comments:

Post a Comment