PLOT A music-obsessed getaway driver tries to leave his life of crime.
CAST Ansel Elgort, Lily James, Kevin Spacey, Jamie Foxx
RATED R (strong violence and language)
BOTTOM LINE A welcome summer surprise -- fresh, funny and more than a little bonkers.
The band Spacemen 3 once titled an album “Taking Drugs to Make Music to Take Drugs To.” The writer-director Edgar Wright, a major record-head, might appreciate this comparison: He makes movies out of ideas that are too crazy to make movies out of.
Wright’s breakout film, “Shaun of the Dead,” combined a lovable-loser storyline with a zombie apocalypse. “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World” centered on a young superhero with the power of bad indie-rock. Now comes Wright’s “Baby Driver,” a hard-hitting action-comedy-musical named after a Simon & Garfunkel song.
Sound impossible? Not if you have the right actors and a script full of firecracker dialogue — and not if you can direct like Wright. Though this movie lives in the shadow of “Pulp Fiction,” and maybe even “Guardians of the Galaxy,” it’s a welcome jolt of wild energy in a lackluster summer movie season.
Ansel Elgort (“The Fault in Our Stars”) plays a getaway driver so young and smooth-cheeked that he’s known as Baby. With his flat affect, black shades and music-pumping earbuds (to drown out his trauma-induced tinnitus), Baby seems a bit like The Who’s Tommy, only he’s a wizard with a wheel and a hand brake. The film’s opening car chase — a balletic smashup set to “Bellbottoms,” by the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion — tells us we’d better buckle up.
Plot-wise, “Baby Driver” comes stock. Our hero will quit crime after the proverbial “one last job,” and in the meantime he falls for a pretty waitress, Debora (a charming Lily James). Their relationship seems based mostly on swapping obscure pop tunes (T. Rex’s “Debora,” Carla Thomas’ “B-A-B-Y”), but in a movie like this, we’ll buy it. Anyway, there’s a terrific supporting cast to entertain us, including Jon Hamm as the coked-up criminal Buddy, Jamie Foxx as a killer named Bats and a show-stealing Kevin Spacey as the Atlanta crime boss Doc. (Truth be told, Elgort seems the least forceful presence here.)
As for the halting forays into stage-musical territory — a sidewalk soft-shoe, a pas de deux in a laundromat — they’re inventive but distracting. The real fun comes from the film’s giddy New Wave energy, vintage soundtrack (how long since you’ve heard Queen’s “Brighton Rock”?) and smashing action sequences. When it’s firing on all cylinders, “Baby Driver” is a rock-and-rolling, rubber-burning blast.