Arts & Leisure

“Baby Driver” is the summer’s best ride

JAMIE FOXX and Ansel Elgort in “Baby Driver.” (TriStar Pictures).

By Jim Tortolano

Americans have a love-love-love relationship with automobiles. We love the freedom they give us. We enjoy the status they can confer. And we thrill at the sight of a car race or chase, from NASCAR to “The French Connection.”

The new film “Baby Driver” touches our need-for-speed button in a thoroughly unique way. Written and directed by Edgar Wright, it features all-star supporting cast for the soon-to-be star Ansel Elgort, who is the wheelman of the title.

This is a strange bird: part crime caper tall tale, part musical and part redemption fantasy. If you try to take “Baby” literally, you might miss the point of the film, which – to me, anyway – is to celebrate the way that we as a society have created a whole glittering mythology about the power and promise of the big engine and the open road.

The opening scene, with its charming blend of visual and musical puns and riffs, is worth the price of admission alone. This is where we meet “Baby,” a somewhat mysterious young man with shades and ear buds. He may appear to be another aloof millennial, but there’s much more to his story. He is indebted to the stone-cold criminal mastermind Doc (Kevin Spacey) and therefore is the driver for a shifting cast of ne’er-do-wells including Jon Hamm and Jamie Foxx.

We get to see – and hear – Baby – perform impossible feats as a getaway driver, leaving hapless police vehicles behind in a carefully choreographed and sound-tracked ballet of sheet metal mayhem.

Between bold robberies, Baby meets and strikes up a romance that sparks almost as fast as his car chases. Debora (Lily James) is the flirty, pretty waitress at a diner who dreams of hopping into a car and leaving the drudgery of waiting tables far, far behind her.

Of course, the conflict between love and freedom on one hand, and obligation and sordid past on the other power the last part of the movie. That, and a serious of increasingly implausible car chases, crashes and shootings.

This being a Hollywood movie, you can probably guess whether Baby and Debora survive and escape, but despite its inevitable predictability, “Baby Driver” is one kick-asterisk ride. Suspend your disbelief for two hours and you may love it, too.

“Baby Driver” is rated R for language, violence and lots of smoking. And yes, the Simon & Garfunkel song does make it into the soundtrack.

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