Baby (Ansel Elgort) is young getaway driver with a tragic past who gets in too deep with Doc, a criminal mastermind (Kevin Spacey). Along with a motley crew of volatile thieves (including Jon Hamm and Jamie Foxx), they plan bank robberies and armored truck heists. But when Baby wants out, the crew won't let his talents go. And when he meets a nice waitress named Debora (Lily James), his desperation to escape his life of crime and take his sweetheart into the sunset leads to a deadly battle of wills with the rest of his team.
The film dangerously attempts to portray every cliche from the history of heist movies in what seems to be commentary on the genre, but it's unclear what exactly that commentary is. Of course, there's the mysterious leader, the angry and suspicious wildcards, the sexy vixen, the demure and innocent love interest, the "one more and I'm out" device, the industrial warehouse hangout, the bad guy who won't die, and the cooler than thou competition among nearly every character. And while even the best directors (Tarantino and Soderbergh come to mind here) do plenty of borrowing, both on purpose and subconsciously, director Edgar Wright's incessant winking at the audience just doesn't work here. The film is so self-referential, it almost becomes a mockery of itself by the end. Wright's attempt at pastiche could have been clever and valuable, but instead it comes off as a labored attempt to look cool rather than focusing on story, dialogue, and character.
The film also suffers from an inconsistency of tone. The first two scenes, a brilliantly executed car chase and then a whimsical long-take walk/dance through the city streets, sets up the audience for something exciting, yet lighthearted, something with a feel of the Ocean's Eleven films. But with jarring switches to intense violence and morose character turns, the film doesn't quite know what it wants to be. It tries to be Heat, Reservoir Dogs, Drive, Gone in 60 Seconds, The Italian Job, and with a splash of La La Land. Yet, it's simultaneously none of them. It's like Wright and the actors got together and said, "People love pizza. And they love ice cream. Let's make a giant batch of pizza ice cream!" Yuck.
Perhaps the saddest part of this project is the emptiness of Debora's character. She is simply a lonely Cinderella waiting around to be saved by a bad-boy Prince Charming. I'm amazed anyone approved such a flat and uninteresting portrayal when she could have been so much more. But this is a film about Baby, in what is clearly intended to be a star-making turn for Elgort. Unfortunately, he is a composite of everything insufferable about people under 24. He borrows lines from television soundbites, throwing around quotes as if he's being insightful. He has ridiculous sunglasses stashed in every pocket. His earbuds (because of tinnitus) are a gimmick for giving the audience a fun soundtrack, but they epitomize the "look at me, but don't talk to me" mindset of countless college kids I see walking across campus every day. He lives in his own world where nothing is original to him. He is a blank slate in which culture is imposed upon him and nothing is original. Even the funky tapes he makes come from the dialogue of other people. And this is the essence of Baby Driver as a whole.
It's an unending exercise in trying so hard to be clever. But there's so little of substance. Perhaps Baby Driver is an attempt to show us what a 21st-century ipod/Netflix/On Demand/Numerous Sequel world has brought us, where everything is a personalized amalgamation of everything else. While that may be a valuable critique, I just wish such an insightful assessment were more interesting to watch.