Baby Driver (2017) ☆☆☆1/2(3.5/4): A slick, efficient jukebox action movie

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“Baby Driver” delighted and excited me. Here is a slick, efficient jukebox action movie which mixes familiar genre elements in a way a lot more refreshing and thrilling than expected, and it is electrifying to watch how it deftly and smoothly drives along its course as doling out a number of superlative action sequences which will linger on you along with its terrific soundtrack.

From the beginning, the movie clearly recognizes its source of inspiration. Its hero is a young taciturn man nicknamed ‘Baby’ (Ansel Elgort), and he is a getaway driver as skillful as Ryan Gosling’s character in “Drive” (2011) or Ryan O’Neal’s in “The Driver” (1978). During the opening sequence, we see him working with a trio of bank robbers, and he certainly demonstrates his exceptional driving technique when they need to get away from the crime scene as quickly as possible.

Because of his tinnitus caused by a tragic accident which happened when he was very young, Baby usually listens to the music played on his iPods, and that even applies to when he works. Yes, we have already seen countless cases of vehicle action sequence mixed with music, but director/writer Edgar Wright and his editors Paul Machliss and Jonathan Amos push that cliché further, and it is a sheer pleasure to watch how dexterously music and action is mixed together for our entertainment.

After this impressive opening sequence, the movie establishes Baby’s relationships with various characters surrounding him. His boss is a criminal mastermind called Doc (Kevin Spacey), and we come to learn that Baby has worked for Doc since he happened to steal Doc’s car full of stolen goods several years ago. So far, Baby has been impeccable as gradually paying off his debt to Doc, and Doc personally promises to him that he will soon be clean and free after one last job.

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Of course, we all know that is not possible, and we already see the trouble when Doc assembles another trio of criminals for his latest heist plan. One of them is a guy nicknamed Bats (Jamie Foxx), and this pugnacious guy instantly becomes hostile toward Baby right from when he and others gather together for preparing for their heist. At first, Bats seems to be merely threatening, but there comes a darkly amusing moment where he casually justifies what he and his accomplices are going to do, and this is later followed by a brief but chilling moment which implies how ruthless he can be.

Meanwhile, the movie pays some attention to Baby’s private life. He has lived with his deaf foster father Joseph (CJ Jones), and it is evident from their affectionate interactions that they genuinely care about each other. In his room, Baby often has his solitary fun with making mix tapes based on the snippets of the conversations he privately records, and that gives us another nice musical moment to be appreciated.

And there is a young girl named Debora (Lily James), who works as a waitress at a local cafeteria. When she and Baby happen to meet each other on one day, they instantly become attracted to each other, and they come to share their mutual dream of getting out of their world someday, though Baby does not tell her much about his current occupation.

As these story elements are assembled in each own place, the movie readies itself for a full-throttle mode. While it is surely expected that our young hero is pulled into his criminal world again, we get some unexpected moments of thrill and surprise, and there is a very tense mode when Baby and his criminal associates confront a group of guys who may not be what they seem on the surface. The climactic action sequence does not disappoint us at all with its nice payback moment, and you will certainly appreciate how Queen’s “Brighton Rock” is used during the finale.

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The cast members are all excellent in their respective roles. Ansel Elgort, who previously drew our attention via his earnest performance in “The Fault in Our Stars” (2014), gives a likable performance, and he and Lily James play well with each other in their warm, intimate scenes. Kevin Spacey shows that he is always compelling whenever he plays the smartest person in the room, and there is a little poignant moment when his character shows some generosity to Baby later in the story. While John Hamm, Jon Bernthal, and Eiza González imbues their criminal characters with life and personality, Jamie Foxx is effectively menacing, and CJ Jones and Paul Williams are also solid in their small supporting roles.

Since “The Shaun of the Dead” (2004), Wright has shown his considerable talent through a number of various comedy films. While “The Shaun of the Dead” was a funny zombie comedy film which amused me a lot for its gory but witty moments, “Hot Fuzz” (2007) was a violent but exhilarating parody of action flicks, and I still remember well how I laughed hard during one scene which hilariously parodied one certain scene from “Point Break” (1991). In case of “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World” (2010), I was entertained by its playful handling of a video game world inhabited by Michael Cera’s nerdy hero, and “The World’s End” (2013) was another fun movie with lots of goodies to savor.

In “Baby Driver”, Wright tops himself while being a little more serious than before, and the result is one of the best action movies of this year. It may be all about style, but it is presented with admirable skill and exuberant energy, and I found myself energized by its many exciting moments during a night screening I attended on this Thursday. This is one hell of joy ride, folks.

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