There's nothing like an epic getaway chase to kick a movie into high gear, and the first five minutes of "Baby Driver " are pure movie magic.
A driver named Baby (Ansel Elgort) sits coolly in a car — black Ray-Ban style shades on his face, earbud headphones in place and a jacket that's, fittingly, somewhere between Ferris Bueller and Han Solo. His tough-looking passengers (Jon Hamm, Eiza Gonzalez and Jon Bernthal) exit with comical menace, assault weapons in hand. Baby sits back, cranks up "Bellbottoms" by the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion and air guitars his way through the sequence while the others rob a bank and exit in a hurry. That's when things really get going as Baby steps on the gas and maneuvers away from the cops with heart-pounding, exhilarating polish. It's a car chase for the ages.
It should be no surprise then that what comes after doesn't quite live up to that initial jolt of adrenaline. Nor should it, really — it would be brutal to sustain something like that for the duration of a film (and we already have "Mad Max: Fury Road").
Director and writer Edgar Wright crafts a slick, stylish and wholly original action epic with "Baby Driver," which is both as good as anything you're bound to see in theaters this summer and a bit of a drop-off from the incredibly high bar that Wright has proven himself capable of hitting.
It's about an outlaw kid with a good heart who's at a crossroads. Some youthful indiscretions in Atlanta put Baby in debt to a big-time criminal orchestrator, Doc, played by a perfectly over-the-top Kevin Spacey. Baby's been doing the dirty work of driving Doc's baddies ever since. Will he stay bad, opt for a life on the straight and narrow, or is it too late to even make a decision?
We meet Baby two jobs away from being in the clear. To outsiders, he's an odd duck. He doesn't say much, ever, and he always has a pair of headphones in his ears. But this isn't just any aloof millennial. The headphones and omnipresent soundtrack are there for a reason: Baby's got tinnitus and the music helps drown out the "hum in the drum" as Doc explains in his quick clipped paperback noir way.
The only people he engages with are his guardian, Joseph (CJ Jones), who is wheelchair-bound and deaf and whom Baby takes care of, and the waitress of Baby's dreams, Debora (Lily James), whom he meets when she breezes into the throwback diner singing Carla Thomas' "B-A-B-Y" to herself. They talk and flirt and fall for each other and wax poetic about heading west on I-20 in a car they can't afford with plans they don't have. It's then that you know things have to start going downhill for our getaway driver.
With freedom in sight, his cool is cracking, and things really go sideways when he gets paired up with Bats (a manic Jamie Foxx), who is as crazy as name suggests, on a few runs
Elgort is pretty charming as Baby — which is a tough part to get right. Young Harrison Ford looks aside, Elgort has an ineffable charisma that's there even when he's listening to music.
"Baby Driver" is a swerve into seriousness for Wright, who has given us some of the most gleefully witty genre send-ups of this century, and it is missing some of that crackling Simon Pegg humor. Also, James, a terrific actress, is reduced to a cartoonish approximation of "the girl" who's only there to give our hero something to care about. Or perhaps that's the bigger point of "Baby Driver." In this underground world, no one is "real" — they're all slick coats of paint and simulated cool, right down to the carefully calculated soundtrack. But what more do you want from an action pic?
"Baby Driver," a Sony Pictures release, is rated R by the Motion Picture Association of America for "violence and language throughout." Running time: 113 minutes. Three stars out of four.
MPAA Definition of PG-13: Parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.
Follow AP Film Writer Lindsey Bahr on Twitter: www.twitter.com/ldbahr