At a time when hipness has been reduced to emojis and man buns, filmmaker Edgar Wright dishes the real deal with the uber-stylish “Baby Driver,” a crime caper that melds “Drive”-style action and “American Graffiti” musicality.
The results are both familiar and fresh.
The hero of Wright’s funky tough-guy fantasy is Baby (Ansel Elgort of “The Fault in Our Stars”), a kid (he’s maybe 19) who, as the film begins, has two loves: driving and music.
Baby is an expert wheelman employed by Doc (Kevin Spacey), a shadowy crime king specializing in impossible heists. A few years back the youthful Baby stole and wrecked Doc’s car, and now he’s paying off the debt as a getaway driver.
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He’s really, really good, as demonstrated by the hair-raising robbery and chase that open the film.
Baby is also a world-class music freak who is rarely seen without earbuds firmly in place. Other people walk down the street; Baby bops, propelled by the beats in his head.
Not since John Travolta’s Tony Manero sashayed through Brooklyn to the strains of “Stayin’ Alive” has mortal man turned mere perambulation into such a display of awesomeness.
In fact, Baby keeps a small arsenal of MP3 players in his pockets, each filled with a specific kind of music depending upon his mood and the task at hand. He has playlists for cruising, for chilling, for getting pumped up and for settling down.
As a result, “Baby Driver” has more great across-the-spectrum pop music than any movie since George Lucas’ “American Graffiti,” the film that back in 1973 convinced Hollywood that you don’t need a composer and original score if you can tell your story with familiar radio hits.
Baby doesn’t say much, which leads his partners in crime to fear he’s not quite all there. In fact, Baby knows what’s going on around him but prefers to keep his own counsel. Technically he may be a criminal, but basically he’s a sweet kid with no stomach for the violent proclivities of his fellow robbers. Best to keep an emotional distance.
The only person to whom our hero really opens up is Joseph (CJ Jones), his foster father, who is deaf and uses a wheelchair. Joseph is Baby’s Jiminy Cricket, urging him (in sign language) to walk the straight and narrow.
Of course, everything goes topsy-turvy when Baby meets Debora (Lily James of “Cinderella”), a guileless waitress who shares his love of music and is desperate for a way out of her dead-end life.
The problem is that having a girlfriend makes Baby vulnerable in the eyes of Doc and his fellow miscreants, among them the aptly named Bats (Jamie Foxx in full-on evil mode) and the seemingly simpatico Buddy (Jon Hamm, clad in black and sporting an amazingly bizarre hair cut).
Before it’s all over Baby will be outrunning not only the cops but his fellow crooks, who want him (and Debora) dead.
There’s nothing profound going on in “Baby Driver.” What you see (and hear) is what you get.
But what you get is a fiercely kinetic, adrenaline-fueled entertainment imbued with comic book sensibilities and exaggerated reality. “Baby Driver” is often funny in a Tarantino-ish way, frequently exciting and consistently diverting.
And it proves once again that writer/director Wright (“Shaun of the Dead,” “Hot Fuzz,” “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World,” “The World’s End”) possesses one of the most imaginative visions in contemporary cinema.
Read more of freelancer Robert W. Butler’s coverage at butlerscinemascene.com.
Opens at 7 p.m. Tuesday.
Rated R for violence and language throughout.