Tuesday, July 4, 2017

The Cynic Movie Critic

Baby Driver (2017)
Directed & Written by Edgar Wright
Starring Jamie Foxx, Jon Hamm, & Kevin Spacey

There's a basic rule in storytelling: All the parts of the story must fit together. If it's a good story, one part leads to another part, and that part to another part, until the final part gives you a complete picture. If it's a bad movie, there are parts in the story that don't belong there, and even if they were removed from the story, the remaining parts would still tell the same tale. Movies with superfluous parts don't necessarily mean they're automatically bad, but it does mean they are not a complete picture. So we can enjoy a lot of the parts and have a good time, but one will most likely forget the story as soon as it is over. The complete picture story can be heard again and again, and with each telling some new meaning can be interpreted, some new combination of the parts can relay an underlying subplot that one didn't catch on the first telling of the story. 

If you watch The Big Bang Theory TV show, you probably know that Amy, Sheldon's girlfriend, pointed out that in the movie Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) Indiana Jones was a superfluous character, that the movie would have played out the same even if Jones were removed from the movie. This flaw does not make the movie any less enjoyable, and we do go see these movies because we like Indiana Jones and his adventures. Who cares if the story is incomplete and the Jones character is superfluous?! We like the big music score and the action sequences. 

Baby Driver is an incomplete story. From beginning to end, every move of every actor is choreographed to the soundtrack. The soundtrack may as well be a character in the story. It's like watching a fixed fight--with all the audience in on the fix. No one is here to watch a good story. It's all about that soundtrack. Let's see the film description:

Talented getaway driver Baby (Ansel Elgort) relies on the beat of his personal soundtrack to be the best in the game. After meeting the woman (Lily James) of his dreams, he sees a chance to ditch his shady lifestyle and make a clean break. Coerced into working for a crime boss (Kevin Spacey), Baby must face the music as a doomed heist threatens his life, love and freedom.

Got it? "Personal soundtrack", "face the music". It's a one-note film. Most of the reviews I read commented heavily on the soundtrack and less so on the story, because there really wasn't one. I'd be redundant to call it a "music video", but at one hour fifty-three minutes long, redundancy would be too generous a description. The movie breaks the fourth wall over and again to follow the script of the music score, from restarting a scene to restarting a song. The movie cannot move without the music to direct it. 

The actors, however, know they are competing with a soundtrack for time on the screen, and the better ones manage to upstage the music. Jamie Foxx owns this movie. He's menacing, devious, evil, charismatic, and doesn't waste one word of his lines to cue any music. Jon Hamm manages to carry his likability in his pocket for when he needs it; otherwise, he, too, creates tension from a simple stare or an implied threat. When it's time for him to deliver on his threats, he pushes the music to one side as he remains likable while he's trying to exact his murderous revenge. The lead role (Ansel Elgort) is that one-note performance I mentioned. This part would have been Oscar material in the hands of a young Leonardo DiCaprio or Johnny Depp. But in Ansel's hands, his IPod steals his scenes. One of his best scenes is the foot chase choreographed to Hocus Pocus by the band Focus. But are we cheering for the hero or the song? In my case, I was yodeling along to the music.

The audience I saw the movie with oohed and aahed everytime Elgort took off or put on his sunglasses. And this crowd couldn't tell the difference between 50s, 60s, 70s or any decade's music. No one even laughed when Baby mispronounces the band's name as Trex (T-Rex). This was not a movie-going crowd there for the depth of the story, but for the best music system to see the latest soundtrack in film. I'm sorry, I meant "hear", not "see". Or did I? The soundtrack played in super-duper LFX, Dolby Atmos. Which means it was loud and the screen was real wide. It was one of those theaters where you choose your seat, but no one pays attention to assigned seating once you're inside and grabs the best seats. Or maybe it was just me. Anyway, sit in the middle to centralize the stereo effect. 

So that's the best advice I can give you. As I said, there are parts in the movie that are superfluous, but who cares, right? So what if Spacey says in one scene that he never uses the same crew twice, but the same driver in the last ten robberies. Then in the next scene, we see the same crew from the last job and Spacey in a fit of anger calls on his cell phone for a new driver. Yeah, there's a whole bunch of scenes like that. Bad continuity. But hell, Rotten Tomatoes gave it a 97% approval rating, so what do I know? Oh, yeah, one more thing. Jon Bernthal (Punisher, Walking Dead) gets top billing but appears in an opening scene that sets up a big showdown. Then he disappears for the rest of the movie. I wouldn't be surprised if that was the role Jamie Foxx took over after Bernthal left. But what do I know? 

Cynic Recommendation: Who you gonna believe, me or Rotten Tomatoes? Losers.    

1 comment:

  1. Confession: I loved every minute of this movie. But it may be instructive to note that I am a semi-professional musician of the last 30 years or so, and the music WAS the story for me. :-)