You know when you’re flipping through the channels and you come across a movie you’ve seen a thousand times — but you always have to stop and watch it again? For many fans, Edgar Wright‘s “Shaun of the Dead” and “Hot Fuzz” fall into that category. And for some reason, Wright’s latest, “Baby Driver,” already feels like an old favourite.
Written and directed by Wright, “Baby Driver” is a wildly imaginative blast of a crime caper. The titular getaway specialist Baby, played by Ansel Elgort bopping around town with omnipresent iPod headphones stuffed in his ears, is obsessed with music. So the car-crazy action is soundtracked by an endless mixtape of pop classics slamming the pedal to the metal on a succession of deliriously thrilling chases. The sheer automotive exhilaration of the first half is what will hook you in to this instant fave when you stumble across it on TV for years to come.
Aside from the rip-roaring chases, the rest of the film feels as familiar as a comfy pair of driving gloves or a favourite song. When I say I felt like I’d seen it before, I don’t necessarily mean that in a bad way. But there are several reasons Wright’s latest feels familiar.
First off, Wright’s kinetic, comedic style is so distinctive, watching it feels like a needle slipping into a well-worn groove. His roving camera is as thrillingly mobile as ever, racing, drifting and cornering with the cars. His trademark precision editing is as delightful as always. And the incorporation of his favourite tunes, from the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion to Queen, is woven even more tightly into the narrative than ever before.
All of these things will be familiar from the movie’s promotional trailers. And I don’t just mean the trailers did a good job of evoking the feel of the film — I mean the film literally uses the same gimmick as the promos, syncopating stuttering gunfire and roaring engines with the rhythm of each tune. It’s the latest tic in trailers from “Mad Max: Fury Road” to “Suicide Squad” to “Kong: Skull Island” and is already on its way to being overdone, but it’s super-fun when used as skilfully as in “Baby Driver”. Still, the similarity between trailers and finished product means once you’ve seen the promos the actual movie offers few surprises.
You’d expect the actual movie to add some depth to the characters and situations glimpsed in the trailers. Nope. The undercooked love story seems to work by assuming we’ve seen “True Romance” and leaving it at that, because it sure doesn’t tell us anything about Lily James‘ winsome but one-dimensional love interest.
Elsewhere, characters names like Doc, Buddy and Darling highlight how directly the characters have come from central casting, and they’re brought to life only because Kevin Spacey, Jamie Foxx and Jon Hamm are so clearly having so much fun.
The fresh and thrilling car chase scenes feel like a new coat of paint slapped on a stock car assembled from parts stripped from other genre outings. Wright and his former writing partner Simon Pegg have always had a microscopic eye for genre tropes, gleefully chopping and screwing conventions in horror and action mash-ups “Shaun of the Dead” and “Hot Fuzz”. But where those flicks subverted genres in order to celebrate them, “Baby Driver” traffics in more direct homage.
In fact, if you think you’ve seen this movie, about a semi-nameless getaway driver falling in love in a cool jacket, it’s because you have — six years back, when it was called “Drive“.
To be clear, I have zero problem with this — “Drive” is another movie I will always stop to watch when I encounter it on TV. And “Drive” was itself (via a novel by James Sallis) essentially a remake of Walter Hill‘s 1978 car chase classic “The Driver” (a debt “Baby Driver” acknowledges by throwing in a vocal cameo for the veteran director).
Perhaps this is the start of a new cinematic movement: the world’s most stylish auteurs each bring their aesthetic flourishes (and killer tunes) to remake the same car chase movie.
“Baby Driver” is a lot of tyre-squealing fun. It’s familiar in a good way, like getting into your car and knowing exactly where the clutch bites or where you have to whack the dash to get the radio to work. It probably won’t be anyone’s favourite Edgar Wright flick, but when you come across it on TV just you try turning it off.
“Baby Driver” is in theatres in the US and UK on 28 June and in Australia on 13 July. “Hot Fuzz” and “Shaun of the Dead” are probably on ITV2 now.
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‘Baby Driver’ star Ansel Elgort explains how to drift
In an interview with CNET News editor-in-chief Connie Guglielmo and “Baby Driver” director Edgar Wright, Ansel Elgort details how he learned to drift cars for the film’s incredible stunts.