comscore Director Wright upends fast and felonious genre | Honolulu Star-Advertiser
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Director Wright upends fast and felonious genre

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    Jon Hamm, left, Eiza Gonzalez, Ansel Elgort and Jamie Foxx star in the heist film “Baby Driver.”

“Baby Driver”

***1/2

(R, 1:30)

Edgar Wright never met a film genre he couldn’t transform. He took the slow-walking world of zombies and infused it with high energy comedy to create “Shawn of the Dead.” The right turn he made in what appeared to be a sleepy village cop movie with “Hot Fuzz” created cinematic whiplash.

Now, the director-writer has tackled the genre of fast cars with “Baby Driver.” It starts out looking to be nothing more than a fast story of furious thugs, but Wright quickly turns it into a blend of “Reservoir Dogs” and “Romeo and Juliet.” It sounds like what would happen if someone made a peanut butter-and-ketchup sandwich, but all you have to do is give Wright’s twisted sense of filmmaking a few moments and the contradictions become things of beauty.

“Baby Driver” starts with a typical robbery and car chase. Behind the wheel is Baby (Ansel Elgort), a young man who doesn’t look old enough to drive. It takes only a few seconds to realize that Baby’s a maestro behind the wheel, treating his run from the cops like a choreographed dance. Part of that comes from Baby constantly listening to music to drown out the permanent hum in his head caused by a childhood accident.

The brains behind the group is Doc (Kevin Spacey), a businessman who plans each crime with the skill of a general going into battle. He never works with the same band of thieves except for Baby, who has become a good-luck charm.

Among the criminals he hires are Buddy (Jon Hamm), a white-collar money wizard obsessed with white powder. Buddy’s love, Darling (Eiza Gonzalez), is as deadly with her sexuality as she is with her guns. And then there’s Bats (Jamie Foxx), a psychopath who settles any dispute with a bullet.

The plan for one last big score begins to show cracks when Baby’s focus becomes split between the job and Deborah (Lily James), a Southern belle waitress whose dream is to hit the open road without a plan. This longing for independence infects Baby, and he must work his way out of criminal commitments that stand in his way.

“Baby Driver” is filled with fascinating characters who could all be the focus of their own movies. Wright manages to not only stage wild car chase scenes but also to spotlight each creepy character. Foxx is particularly strong, as he keeps Bats just on the fine line between sanity and insanity.

The key is Elgort. He’s just young enough that Baby looks like he should be sitting in a high school class but can play the role with enough intensity to make Baby come across as a highly skilled driver and deeply caring boyfriend.

All this happens because Wright brings such a unique and compelling vision to his work. In “Baby Driver” the smart details range from a long unedited opening sequence, where the words of the song playing in Baby’s ears come to life, to using everyday cars instead of the snazzy rides that populate other car chase offerings. Even the soundtrack of tunes comes from a mix of musical genres that should never be played together. It comes across as the perfect background music for this wild and crazy world.

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