Thursday, November 9, 2017

Not exactly driven

In my very occasional series of "Catching up with films that all of you saw a year ago", I finally saw Baby Driver tonight. [Tangent: What can I say? I just don't see many movies these days. Tricia's not really a fan and I could go see things alone, but that's really kind of lame. Of course, if I actually had a job writing about movies, I guess I'd see a lot of things alone. So, if anyone's looking for a critic, I'll gladly suffer the travails. /tangent.]

I'm not a huge Edgar Wright fan. I appreciated certain aspects of Shaun of the Dead and Scott Pilgrim vs. The World. I also thought Ant-Man (which he wrote, but didn't direct) was one of the more entertaining Marvel films because he isolated the aspect that drives Marvel's characters into legend: They're real people. That's been a hallmark of his other films, as well. Weird stuff happens to his characters, but they still stay largely human, with all of the associated quirks, failings, and idiosyncrasies that comprise that condition. No one is human in Baby Driver, from the title character (Ansel Elgort) to his sudden girlfriend (Lily James.) They're all figments of imagination that would have a horrible time actually functioning in a society made up of humans, which we (kinda) still live in.

First off, it's an action film. I get it. There's supposed to be a lot of action, which frequently involves bullets and various loud noises. However, I think Wright went just a bit over the top here. I mean, yeah, running firefights across the city are fine, since it's an action film. But when we get to the point where cars are falling from the upper floors of parking garages and exploding in the middle of downtown Atlanta, that's where you start to lose me. First off, because cars don't really explode when they catch fire. But secondly because you're kind of losing the thread of the story for a lightshow. Lightshows don't affect the quality of the music at a concert, so they don't really need to be a part of the story, unless your story happens to be about a war where explosions are common. Take, for example, Ben Affleck's The Town. It's also a story about a high-end, efficient heist crew, including one member who wants to get out, and there are several exciting gunfights and chase scenes. But there are no explosions because gunfights are already exciting enough. There are times when both writer and director have to exercise some restraint in order to keep the focus on their story. Wright didn't do that here.

That lack of humanity had an even bigger impact on some unfortunate casting. I'm sorry, but Jon Hamm (Buddy) doing the shaved blowback look doesn't make him a criminal. It just makes him look goofy. And he's still so wooden in these kinds of roles (he was also in The Town) that it's difficult to take him seriously and not think that I'm watching Don Draper act out an extremely visceral commercial in the conference room of Sterling Cooper. Making him take it to the nth degree with a Terminator schtick (Is he really dead this time?) doesn't help, especially because said schtick (Is he really dead THIS time?) is driven by the world's most obvious death scene for Eiza Gonzalez (Monica), as a consequence of a totally unnecessary moment of bravado for a professional thief. Was that the moment we were supposed to imagine that Monica was really a badass like the men, even though her role to that point had been nothing but sex object, full stop? Because she can be a total idiot and stand in the open with a pair of long guns in front of a phalanx of cops while her husband wisely shelters behind the car?

Jamie Foxx (Bats), unfortunately, had the worst of the roles. I just have no patience for these unreasonably violent and chaotic characters that somehow still function in society long enough to not be jailed or gunned down in the street. You're telling me that this psychopath (not a sociopath, which would be believable and which Doc (Kevin Spacey) is; the two are quite different) has become a professional heist guy so reliable that someone as meticulous as Doc would hire him more than once and somehow not be aware of what a loose cannon he is? Or that anyone would choose to work with him when he repeatedly does exactly what pros don't do, which is attract attention to himself on a regular basis? Or that he wouldn't have long ago been arrested and permanently jailed because he constantly attracts attention to himself with petty crimes? Yeah... no. It's simply not believable. On top of that, you have Spacey mailing it in as hard as he possibly can. I know the man has been typecast as evil genius since The Usual Suspects (spoilers!) and the script did him no favors, but he might have allowed himself to have just a bit of personality. And how does Jon Bernthal rate third billing with a whole five minutes of screen time and a completely disposable (and forgettable, since Doc didn't hire him again) role?

But the killer is the ending. I don't know how many test audiences it went through, but all of them should never be allowed near a theater again. In what jurisdiction does multiple armed robbery, multiple grand theft auto, multiple carjacking, multiple assault with a deadly weapon, murder, and a lifetime supply of reckless driving and endangerment get you 25 years, parole in 5? And in which state do you get paroled with that list of charges on the first chance? The Hollywood happy ending is so tacked on that they didn't even bother to do any makeup for Elgort and James to show that they'd aged five years, especially in Elgort's case. That list of charges puts you in maxi and no one comes out of there with the same babyface that they went into it with. Prison ages you. So does time, in general. But it didn't matter because all of the intensity and chaos and violence of the previous hour and 50 minutes was just washed away by the gentle golden glow of a moving Hallmark card as Baby walks away with the girl. Really? This is what the whole tragedy of this kid's childhood and his alienation from society and the trauma of being roped into this heist team boils down to? Happily ever after? Yikes, man.

On the positive side, the choreography was excellent. The chase scenes, both behind the wheel and on foot, were thrilling and one of the two high points of the film. The other was the soundtrack, which is brilliant. (Attention, Guardians of the Galaxy fans: This is what a film soundtrack sounds like. Give it a listen.) I can't remember the last time I'd heard Hocus Pocus and I've been listening to Damned Damned Damned the whole time I've been writing this. I have a deep appreciation for people who share my broad taste in music, even if they're fictional characters.

But once again, I find myself on the outside looking in on this one, since like GotG, I seem to be the lone voice of disdain among my friends that have seen it. It's also sitting at 93% on Rotten Tomatoes and most critics were gushing over it to the point where I'm starting to think that movie critics are like mattress critics: handsomely paid to give the best review possible to the average and routine. The New York Times even hailed it as a "NYT Critic's pick", despite this quote directly from the review"is so good that you want it to be better and go deeper, for it to put down its guns (or at least hold them differently) and transcend its clichés and cine-quotes so it can rocket out of the genre safe box into the cosmic beyond where craft and technique transform into art".

Yes. That's exactly what I'm saying. It's not "better." It's not "deep." It's completely clichèd and displays a remarkable lack of craft which would make it art. And yet it's somehow a "critic's pick"? Seriously, does anyone want a movie critic that, you know, actually watches the films? Anyone? Bueller?