Postmortem: Is “Baby Driver” Really THAT Good?

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Kevin: As it approaches its third weekend in release, “Baby Driver” is shaping up to be the surprise sleeper hit of a summer that so far has been dominated by costly disappointments (“Baywatch,” “The Mummy” etc.). The film has benefited from great reviews (96% on Rotten Tomatoes) and even better word of mouth, as at least my social media feed has been filled with friends and family singing the movie’s praises. Tough Guy Digest has had this one high on our Must See List for a while, as we are mostly big fans of director Edgar Wright, especially his wildly inventive and criminally underseen “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World.”

Well CJ, Mike, and myself have all now seen “Baby Driver” and it appears that after all the anticipation and hype, the actual film itself left us a little cold at best. I probably enjoyed it the most due to its surface-level pleasures, so I’ll start us off by listing what I did and didn’t like about “Baby Driver”:


(Major spoilers to follow)

Pros

– I wasn’t bored, I wanted to see where it ended up, and I didn’t feel like the movie was insulting my intelligence, which sounds like faint praise, but for a summer movie in this day and age that’s nearly a rave review.

– I liked Jon Hamm a lot and thought his character was the only one who had any kind of arc. He seems like a decent enough guy for most of the movie, but when he turns his wrath on Baby near the end I bought it because he sells it as an actor and, yeah, Baby kind of fucked him over. In another movie his character could easily be the protagonist. Kevin Spacey’s character also has a surprising change of heart near the end but it didn’t feel nearly as earned as Hamm’s.

Jon Hamm;Ansel Elgort

– I think I liked Jamie Foxx but I’m not sure why he was in this, and this is one of the biggest issues I have with the movie. It starts with Baby doing a job with Hamm, Eliza Gonzalez, and Jon Bernthal, who acts like a dick to Baby the entire time. Spacey says he never does a job with the same crew twice, and later we basically re-do the entire first act again but this time on a heist with Foxx and his guys. Then apparently Spacey does do a job with the same crew again, which is now Hamm, Gonzalez, and Foxx for some reason instead of Bernthal. Why is Foxx now involved other than to be just as big an asshole to Baby? It just felt like the movie kept re-doing the same beats over and over.

– I like that – as with the explicitly Toronto-set “Scott Pilgrim” – Wright doesn’t hide the fact that his movies were filmed in places like Canada or Georgia for obvious tax purposes. This is Atlanta, not Atlanta trying to pass itself off as New York.

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– I liked that the whole sequence where they discover his mix tapes of previous conversations didn’t lead to some long tangent where they mistakenly believe he’s a cop or snitch. Instead they just listen to a couple and realize that this is just another weird quirk from a deeply weird kid.

– The thing with Spacey’s nephew helping case the post office was kind of clever, I wish the movie had more of that.

Cons

– For an Edgar Wright film this is a surprisingly straightforward version of a story that’s been told a million times before, and in many ways it’s not that different from something like “Drive”: Hero has a certain set of skills, he doesn’t carry a gun or like violence, he’s pulled in for one last job, he’s in love with a diner waitress played by a British actress who looks nothing like a real diner waitress. I didn’t expect an elaborate musical number to break out out of nowhere, but it would have at least been a welcome bit of flavor.

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– For a movie whose entire hook is its soundtrack, I didn’t find most of the music in this that memorable. There was a quick snippet of a Young MC song near the end that briefly got my toes tapping, but that was about it.

– Also not that memorable: most of the chases in a movie built around driving. I know we mock the “Fast and Furious” movies for their ridiculously unrealistic and CGI-enhanced chases, and in theory love practical stunts as well, but we have to admit that by comparison a “realistic” chase can seem pretty unremarkable nowadays. Although having said that, the car chase in the original “Jack Reacher” was entirely practical and it was one of the most visceral and exciting I’ve ever seen, especially on the big screen, so perhaps it also helps to have a more compelling lead behind the wheel.

– Ansel Elgort. I didn’t hate him, which was surprising since he just looks like the very definition of an insufferable hipster millennial, plus his name is Ansel Elgort. But there was nothing about him I found particularly endearing or charismatic; his actions get a lot of people killed, and when he had to face the music (no pun intended) at the end I just thought, “Well I guess the movie is over soon, and hopefully his girlfriend moves on to someone more stable, like a movie website blogger.”

Neither a pro nor a con, but ever since we did the “Any Given Sunday” Round Table, I can’t picture Jamie Foxx in a movie without remembering his “Cocked” tramp stamp.

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Before I go any further, let’s see what CJ and Mike thought about “Baby Driver”:

CJ: First off, let me just give praise to Jon Bernthal for finally showing a subtle and nuanced take on a character. Nah I’m kidding, he’s a total overacting weirdo as usual. Anyway, here are my takeaways:

Pros

– Jon Hamm talking to Baby about Queen was great because it reminded me: Hey! Queen was great!

Cons

– Hamm talking to Baby about Queen reminded me that Freddie Mercury is dead. AIDS is not uplifting to think about.

– Darling (Eliza Gonzalez) apparently also subscribes to the Dominic Toretto school of “If you’re hit with a bullet don’t worry, it’s fine.” At least in “Fast & Furious” Dom has the decency to pull the bullet out on his own. Darling just never acknowledges getting shot during the gunfight with the undercover cops. There’s no blood, no pain, nothing, just “Hey I got shot asshole, now let’s never speak of this again.”

– I know the Michael Myers joke was hilarious to everyone since it was not in every single trailer, but I was a little confused as to why Jon Hamm basically turns into him at the end of the movie. I thought this was based on reality? Or, like with Darling before, it’s reality except for when it comes to things that kill people? Which is apparently NOT “things that usually kill people.”

– Kevin Spacey helps Baby because he was in love once, which is brought up out of nowhere and there is no further explanation given. This is apparently GENIUS. Batman helps Superman because their moms have the same name and we know Batman loves his mom. This is apparently STUPID. Why the difference again?

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Good thing Clark’s Mom’s name wasn’t Gertrude.

– I felt that the music was a crutch used to hide generally boring writing. Don’t know how to write your way out of this scene? Play a song! Baby is in trouble? Play “Nowhere to Run.” Why bother writing when you can just have musical acts sing your way out of it? In fact, I don’t want to write any more about this bad movie that everyone inexplicably loves, so let’s just play a YouTube clip of any band based out of Montreal.

Seriously though, after the opening credits rolled I was pretty much bored the rest of the way. This is the case I’ve found with basically all of Edgar Wright’s movies: Promising trailer, and then fast forward to me looking at my watch as many unmemorable people say unmemorable things, and then I leave and don’t remember anything. In fact, outside of “Shaun of the Dead,” the biggest reaction an Edgar Wright movie elicited out of me was when I saw “Scott Pilgrim” and went “Ha! That’s Pizza Pizza in the background!” Pizza Pizza is awesome!

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Not pictured: Pizza Pizza.

Mike: Yeah sadly I wasn’t really into it either, which was disappointing because I’ve been looking forward to it for a while. I felt like the entire movie was just one long music video, and for the record I didn’t think there was enough driving! It didn’t seem to have the same charm that a lot of other Edgar Wright projects had; it was almost like someone else directed it as they thought Edgar Wright would. Anyway, here are my thoughts:

Pros

– Jamie Foxx as “Bats” was my favorite character, and whoever designed his wardrobe deserves an Academy Award. Although his demise was disappointing and anticlimactic, he really was the most interesting person to watch. He didn’t put on a fake voice or really stretch his acting talents out to the max of his abilities, but what he delivered worked well in the world of the film. His dialogue was the most compelling, and other than the fact that his character was fairly predictable in terms of behavior, he was the most interesting person on screen. When he died the movie died with him.

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But can he beat Shazaam?

– Jon Hamm’s character “Buddy” had great facial hair and a killer haircut. I actually have no complaints about any of the actors in this film, even Ansel Elgort, who still would not have been my first choice. I could have done without a plethora of all the cutesy hipster look-at-me-and-how-creative-I-am elements that Baby embodied, but that’s all in the directing and should not besmirch the actor. At one point I found myself thinking, “Man, this idiot can’t even just make a fucking peanut butter and jelly sandwich like a normal person, can he?”

SPOILER:

At no point did I expect that Buddy would become the major threat against Baby and his happiness.

Cons

– The chase scenes were not very good. I would consider myself as close to an expert as a person can be in the field of movies about crime, with a doctorate in car chases as well. I didn’t feel the chase sequences in “Baby Driver” lived up to what I would expect out of Edgar Wright, who unlike CJ I am a huge fan of. The most clever move was when Baby evaded the helicopter that was tracking the car in the first chase sequence, but while this was fun to watch and something that I haven’t seen in a car chase before, it was too tongue-and-cheek for my tastes.

– No explanation of why Kevin Spacey, the criminal mastermind, can’t plan a single job where everything doesn’t go completely to shit. Despite Spacey’s virtually non-stop self-aggrandizing, these are not very well thought out crimes. A well-planned, well-executed caper is one where no “wheel man” is necessary at all. In fact the entire point of employing a great “wheel man” is to add an extra layer of security, not to be the first and last line of defense. Now I get it, this is a movie about a getaway driver, and if he’s not driving a getaway car then what’s the point of the movie right? Well here’s the thing about that champ, if you’re going to go down that road (no pun intended) then the actual crimes committed should vary. This movie was literally the same crime happening three different times.

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– Baby’s tinnitus was an annoying and silly plot device. I’m no doctor, but I’d venture to guess that if you have a constant ringing in your ears then the last thing you should do is blast music into that same damaged ear hole day and night. Couldn’t he just be a guy who was really into music? And I have to agree with Kevin, I didn’t think the soundtrack contained too many memorable songs. I actually downloaded the entire soundtrack after I saw the movie and wasn’t impressed. I was also a bit confused by the numerous flashbacks of Baby’s accident. It would appear Edgar Wright was trying to convey that Baby was traumatized by this event in more ways than just his semi-hearing loss, yet Baby makes his career out of crashing cars and putting his life at risk constantly. Then again, Tom Cruise was the same way in “Top Gun,” so maybe I’m the asshole.

– No explanation of Baby’s skill set whatsoever. Even “The Fast and the Furious” threw us a bone and said that Dom used to race stock cars or some such horseshit. As far as I can tell, Baby is only a fantastic driver because he was in the backseat of a station wagon that got into a head-on collision. Edgar Wright seemed to be going for a “Rain Man”-type deal, only in this version Dustin Hoffman could not only count cards, but he could seduce and bang Valeria Golino too!

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– Baby is kind of an asshole. Hey maybe the reason Jon Bernthal and Jamie Foxx hate you so much is because you’re not being serious during Kevin Spacey’s staff meeting about the crime your group is going to commit! Sure, Baby already has all the details worked out and he can listen to music and absorb the intricacies of the plan at the same time, but there is something called manners which would dictate that you remain quiet and respectful during heist prep.

– The following is more a gripe of movies in general than of “Baby Driver” specifically, but I’m tired of protagonist characters that have no friends or family. I’m a lone wolf! That’s all well and good and it makes it easy to write, but for a change it would be refreshing to see a movie about a person with something meaningful to lose.

– I guess Jaime Foxx just kills everyone he meets? We’re lead to believe he killed a man for a box of gum, we know he wanted to kill the waitress over a $3.75 check, and he murdered his own partner for leaving a shotgun behind. Kevin Spacey, Mr. “I’ve Thought of Everything,” feels this is the best man for the extremely dangerous job of … robbing a post office?

– I’m still not clear on whether or not the ending of the movie is a dream sequence or not. I know it’s up to the viewer and all that, but if it’s me I’m thinking Baby is going to die an old man in prison. Despite all the witnesses that testified on Baby’s defense that he was a polite young man, there were still many fatalities linked to crimes he was a major part of, not to mention the hundreds of lives he put in danger on the road. The fact that he’s the last one in the gang left alive doesn’t really tend to affect a judge during sentencing.

– Last but not least, Baby is the same height as Anthony, 6-foot-4. Anthony can barely squeeze into a booth at a restaurant, yet Baby doesn’t even have to adjust the seat when he carjacks an old lady. I don’t know why this bothered me so much, but it did.

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Kevin: Well there you have it. Even after all our complaints though I still wouldn’t tell anyone not to see “Baby Driver.” It’s the rare original film in a sea of sequels and reboots, and if nothing else it’s good to see Edgar Wright finally get a big hit that will allow him to keep making the kinds of movies he wants. Obviously we seem to be in the minority opinion compared to most folks who have enjoyed the film, but if you go in with lowered expectations you’ll probably enjoy it a lot more.

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2 thoughts on “Postmortem: Is “Baby Driver” Really THAT Good?

  1. Actually, thanks for that. I can now wait for it to come to me.

    Also, I find myself increasingly impressed with John Hamm’s ability to make me forget he’s acting. That’s rare. I’ve never seen Jamie Foxx in anything where part of me wasn’t thinking, “Oh, Jamie Foxx is doing a good job in this,” rather than thinking, “Oh, Ray Charles was a dick.”

    Also, it’s “tongue-in-cheek.”

    Liked by 1 person

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