Review – Baby on Board (“Baby Driver”)

Of the slew of getaway driver movies out there, this one is my new favorite. From British writer/director Edgar Wright, who gave us the wickedly funny English films, Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, comes this awesome slam-bang movie about a kid driver, his music, and the very bad people he associates with. Buckle up, people!

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Ansel Elgort plays Baby, the baby-faced 20-something that is facing a crossroads in his young life. He’s financially indebted to Doc (Kevin Spacey), a sorta Fagin-esque mob king-pin who raised Baby as an orphaned child. Baby’s got that “one more job” to do before his debt to Doc is fulfilled and then he can leave the entanglement of driving for bank robbers and thieves. And BOY! Can this kid drive!! With his omnipresent Ray-bans, Ipod buds always playing music (he has tinnitus of the ears), and penchant for rarely speaking, this kid can out-run any cop car in any fast ‘n’ furious situation with ease.

Accumulating his share of the take each heist, he cares for his elderly deaf foster father, Joe (C.J. Jones) and waits for his opportunity to flee the city, which may be soon when he meets Debora (Lily James), a pretty young waitress at a local diner. They hit it off with their mutual love of music and yearning of leaving town and never looking back. Thankfully, right after a rough getaway job from an armored car heist, Baby is finally out… or is he? Looks like Doc has future driving plans for Baby whether he likes it or not, especially when his life and friends are threatened. And it looks like the next driving job is gonna be a doozy.

Doc wants to rob a local USPS of their money orders (who knew they were so valuable?) and hires a villainous crew for Baby to drive them: psychotic and hair-trigger Leon “Bats” Jefferson III (Jamie Foxx), handsome, but deadly Jason “Buddy” VanHorn (Jon Hamm), and Buddy’s wife, Darling (Eiza Gonzalez), who’s just as dangerous when cornered. But Baby wants to get the heck outta Dodge with Debora before the crime and that’s where some major complications pop up, mainly Bats not trusting Baby. After a nail-biting scene at the diner with Debora, Baby and the gang prepare to rob the USPS, and that’s when all Hell breaks loose.

The third act is a cacophony of pure adrenaline action: running from the cops, running from the bad guys, terrific stunt driving, and a shoot-out and chase that is synced with the song Hocus Pocus by Focus. So very cool! AND the icing on the cake is an ending that could have been oh-so clichéd, but didn’t go there. How refreshing! This movie has the earmarks of director Guy Ritchie, with his soundtracks that tell the story and director Sam Raimi, who never wastes (or exploits) a single camera frame. Wright captures both here with his own patented flair of quick-edits; it’s impossible to walk away from this movie not feeling exhilarated.

For the amazing and jaw-dropping car chases, Wright opted NOT to use the boring and overused “smash-cuts” that are so often used, like in the Fast ‘n’ Furious franchise. Instead, we get to see the full scope of the cars driving and it’s just… WOW! Wright also wrote the screenplay, which has snappy dialogue and full of surprise left-turns; check out the laundromat scene that looks and sounds like a deleted scene from La La Land.

And let’s not forget the acting. Spacey does his usual turn as a sinister thug with aplomb, but Foxx is downright chilling with a hardcore, creepy stare. Jon Hamm does a great turn as the married thief who does an unexpected 180 later on and. . .is that singer/composer Paul Williams as an arms dealer? OMG, that is! But the real star here is Elgort who reminds me of a young Ryan O’Neal in The Driver, with his low-key humble persona and hardly ever speaking. He has a quirky sideways attitude, unlike the heroes you’ve seen before.    

 

The Driver (1978)

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Oh sure, there have been a truckload of getaway driver movies from the Transporter series to eclectic films like Run and Drive, but this one is quite different. Written and directed by super-action director Walter Hill (48 Hours, The Getaway), this movie maybe about a slick driver who gets paid by the job, but it has painfully little chase scenes in it. Go figure.

Another oddity is that all the characters have no names! They’re all referred to by The Cop, The Player, The Connection, etc. How weird is that?! Ryan O’Neal is The Driver (aka “Cowboy”) and his arch-nemesis is The Cop (Bruce Dern) and together they form a long-standing rivalry of ‘who’s gonna get catch me first’ ? We see Cowboy plying his trade at the top of the film driving robbers away from a night time casino heist, and many, many L.A. cops. He rarely speaks and barely registers any emotion on his face while being pursued, unlike his freaked-out passengers.

The Cop, frustrated after years of chasing this guy, knows it’s him, but he can never get a witness, like the one outside the casino (Isabelle Adjani) who just so happens to be Cowboy’s semi-girlfriend. Cock-sure and egotistical, The Cop decides to set up a sting to catch Cowboy and employs a recently nabbed crook called Glasses (Joseph Walsh). He’ll have Glasses pay Cowboy to drive him and his team to an underground garage after a bank job and boom! Glasses goes free, the stolen money is recovered, and Cowboy is finally arrested! What could possibly go wrong?

Ah, but The Cop didn’t count on double-crosses and Cowboy sees through the set-up, making off with the bank money and, he hopes, his freedom with his girl. The Cop, going crazy with anticipation, is hot on the heels of Cowboy, while looney Teeth (Rudy Ramos) wants the money he deserves. There’s a climactic chase through the streets of L.A. which leads to an unusual ending at the Union Station lockers with Cowboy, his girlfriend, and a whole bunch of policemen.

Slow and plodding, it’s one of the few Walter Hill films that bombed at the box office. The studios blamed the non-star power of O’Neal as its reason as they wanted Steve McQueen as The Driver, but McQueen had done Bullitt, and swore off car chase movies. Hill, meanwhile, cited O’Neal’s performance as the best he’d ever seen and, believe it or not, Quentin Tarantino loved this movie so much, he’s referenced it in both Pulp Fiction and Kill Bill Vol.2, calling it “one of the coolest movies of all time”.

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