BABY DRIVER (2017, Edgar Wright)
There’s a trend these days in action movie trailers of the music beats being accompanied by diegetic sound effects — most often it’s guns being cocked or fired, and punches being thrown. This can be done either brilliantly (cf. the ATOMIC BLONDE trailer), pretty good (FATE OF THE FURIOUS), or weakly and try-too-hard (AMERICAN ASSASSIN). Imagine this gimmick for an entire movie and you might want to cry. But imagine it done by a craftsman as skilled and giddy as Edgar Wright, and suddenly your ears perk up. That’s essentially what Wright is doing here, and he has pretty much made a musical out of a heist movie. Every detail from the clink of spent bullet casings landing on pavement to a passerby shouting into his mobile phone provides the soundtrack to the action, punctuating the music, accompanying the melody or the beat, and often driving the story. It’s a glorious feat of cinephilia, even if it’s in the service of a weightless and cold genre picture.
Wright has never lacked for a fun, spirited energy behind the camera, mixing his gorgeous eye for framing, economical use of camera movement, and whip-smart edits with a nod to filmmakers of the past — guys from Romero to Carpenter to Bay. Here he’s going for a combo of Walter Hill and Stanley Donen, and he drives donuts around poor Damien Chazelle’s flailing LA LA LAND. And in the way that musicals will cram exposition and dialogue into a few brief scenes before soaking in their extended dance numbers, Wright efficiently slips in just enough backstory and motivation to get us going, then lets his camera and the actors do the rest.
Once the plates are spinning, though, there’s nothing for them to do but eventually stop, and when they do stop there isn’t anything on them. I appreciate him going after a basic genre movie plot, but it couldn’t hurt to add a little spice to it. Maybe make Debora a little more of a human being; maybe give Jamie Foxx a reason to take the crew into the diner. Maybe don’t just coast through the last 10 minutes in neutral. HOT FUZZ similarly uses its form as its content and descends into a third act that gets too gore-killy, while THE WORLD’S END is an absolute gas until it’s not. Even SCOTT PILGRIM runs through the video game motions a few too many times. One of these days this guy is going to make a masterpiece, but until he does, it’s still pretty fun to watch a guy with this kind of command of sound and image make candy.