Baby Driver

One of the lines used in Edgar Wright’s new action/crime flick is lifted (credited) from Fight Club: “How’s that working out for you?” When TV’s Andy Levy reviewed the picture, he put the line in context:

Tyler Durden: Oh I get it, it’s very clever.
Narrator: Thank you.
Tyler Durden: How’s that working out for you?
Narrator: What?
Tyler Durden: Being clever.
Narrator: Great.
Tyler Durden: Keep it up then… Right up.

In Fight Club, it’s none-too-subtle dig at the Narrator’s use of “cute” and “snark” to avoid the implications of his own meaningless existence. Levy’s implication is not nearly so savage, I think. He’s pointing out that Wright is very clever and sometimes his movies can feel too clever.

My ears.
Firing a gun inside a closed car? Ow.

Which is a mild criticism, and one I might agree with, at least to the extent of feeling it was a bit over-hyped by critics. It’s fun. The Flower, The Boy, His Girl and I all agreed it was “pretty good”, which is fainter praise than it deserves, really. But let’s start from the beginning

Ansel Elgort (The Fault In Our Stars) plays “Baby”, a young man who drives for “Doc” (Kevin Spacey) on the various heists that he plans. Baby’s back story is that he was in an accident as a child, that killed both his abusive father and singing mother, and left him with tinnitus, so he uses music to drown out the ringing. (This movie might actually be somewhat annoying at points if you actually have tinnitus.) This contrivance allows Wright to string together action pieces with the specific songs Baby listens to while fleeing from crime scenes.

This is actually very strong: Wright has a great visual feel and the opening parts of the movie are near “silent”, in the sense of having minimal dialogue, and very well choreographed. From the campy direction of “Spaced” and the Shaun of the Dead, Wright has forged a style that’s distinctive and broader in tone than seen in the Cornetto Trilogy (ShaunHot Fuzz and The World’s End).

What the hell is that pink thing she's wearing?
Bad girl.

Anyway, Baby works for the bad guys because as a kid he stole Doc’s car, and doc has been making him “work it off” for the past several years. His step-father (C.J. Jones) doesn’t approve and, one imagines his potential girlfriend, the cute waitress at the local diner (Lily James, Cinderella), might not approve either. (Well, maybe a little.) Elgort and James are precious here, and one thing Wright does very well is handle their inherent cuteness with a level of finesse that keeps it from being cloying. I kept thinking I was going to end up disliking either or both but, nah.

Baby’s work means his colleague tend toward the psychotic, including Jamie Foxx, Jon Hamm, and Jon Bernthal (Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, Sicario), and sexy Mexican import Eiza González. The contrast between González and James is good: They’re both about the same age in real life (James is actually older) but Eiza’s dress and manner make her femme fatale material, whereas nearly 30 James looks like she’s fresh out of high school.

So good.
Good girl.

All these elements work toward a difficult (but relatively clear, morally speaking) set of choices for Baby, and the movie escalates the narrative in a “believable” fashion. I had a little trouble figuring out why Baby didn’t just bail in the middle of the third act—he’s given a lot of opportunities—but I think that he was afraid the rest of them would find him and kill him. I guess I needed a little more hand-holding there.

But as has been noted, especially by @JulesLaLaLand, Wright has a bit of an issue with his third acts. They tend to go a little nuts, and this one is no exception. It’s well done, but we all sort of thought the movie would have ended sooner (not that we objected to how it did end) and with the music and cars and the gunplay, etc., it almost feels like Wright lacks confidence in his own endings, so he amps the spectacle over the story.

I’m just guessing here. It’s a good movie, very good, and a lot of fun in a way movies are having trouble being these days. So big points for that.

Only more tattoos.
Every meeting I’ve ever been in.

The Hitman’s Bodyguard

I’m not sure at what point I realized this, but The Hitman’s Bodyguard is essentially a modern take on the ’80s odd-couple/buddy-cop action genre. So, instead of two cops, one by the book and one a rebel who gets results, we have two high-level mercenaries, one who’s a hitman (Samuel L. Jackson in his least believable role since his computer hacking in Jurassic Park) and another who protects those who are likely hit targets (Ryan Reynolds, who The Flower thought was really fey at first).

That might not even be him.
Fey, you say?

This is a crowd-pleasing formula, though never a critic-pleasing one, since it essentially assumes the position that there is good and evil, and they can be delineated, if not easily. (Hence the 37/70 split on RT.) I would go so far as to say this film is under-rated, but I had literally zero expectations going in. (We wanted to see Baby Driver but we didn’t want to be late to Knott’s Scary Farm, so we opted for It, very reluctantly. Then the traffic was so bad, this was basically our only choice.)

The premise is that Darius Kincaid (Jackson) is a hitman who’s going to turn state’s evidence (whatever the international equivalent would be…states’ evidence?) on evil Belarussian prime minister (Gary Oldman, whom I didn’t actually recognize but just assumed was Gary Oldman because who else would you get for that role?) in order to save his foul-mouthed, murderous wife Sonia (Salma Hayek, spitting out paragraphs of dialogue like she’s in Dogma 2) . On the way to The Hague, the armored car carrying him is ambushed, in a scenario that Dairus is lampshading amusingly, leaving only him and one guard survivor, Amelia (Elodie Yung, who I guess is Elektra in the current Marvel TV thingies I don’t watch, but whom I last saw in 2011’s The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo).

No, they're not. I don't know why that was ever a thing.
They’re the original odd couple!

Amelia goes to a nearby safehouse and contacts her ex-boyfriend Michael Bryce (Ryan Reynolds) whom she bribes into taking custody of Darius. They split because of a job that Michael thinks Amelia betrayed him on. Meanwhile, his reaction to seeing Darius is to try to kill him, and vice-versa.

Through a variety of mishaps, this turns into a cross-country road-trip where they learn a little, laugh a little, love a little. You’ve seen it a thousand times before, you will most certainly see it again. The entertainment factor of something like this depends on a few things: Is the action good, is the dialogue enough to make the non-action scenes un-boring, and (in the trifecta) does the movie actually make you care about the characters.

Now, this stuff is pure cartoon. Reynolds is basically being Deadpool without the bodysuit. Jackson is being psycho-but-lovable Jackson, and his over-the-top relationship with Hayek is sweet and silly. So, if you can’t buy into the goofiness, you won’t enjoy this.

I like the bartender.
Love is, admittedly, kinda goofy.

If you can, it’s worth the two hours. It’s funny, weirdly romantic, and the action holds together pretty well until the final set piece which seemed a bit overloud and overlong. It also—as these movies must—delineates the idea of good vs. evil, in this case with Darius making Michael question whether or not he’s been on the right side, if he’s essentially protecting killers. The acting is good: Jackson is not believable as an international hit man, as noted earlier, but that’s not really important and he’s fun to watch. Patrick Hughes (The Expendables 3) directs the proceedings confidently and unapologetically.

The Boy, The Flower and I all enjoyed it, and we were in a good mood heading into Knott’s.

Eep.
That expression makes me think you wouldn’t want her as an ex.