Putting well-known songs in your movie is a tricky thing. Bad directors lean on them like crutches, crossing their fingers that a well-placed jam will do the heavy lifting. Only a handful of directors can pull it off, through a combo of great taste and tremendous visual confidence. So Edgar Wright has his work cut out for him: Baby Driver is wall-to-wall music. Its protagonist, Baby (Ansel Elgort), suffers from tinnitus caused by a childhood accident, and constantly needs music in his ears to block out the background hum. Baby has an impressive collection of vintage iPods, and he’s assembled a collection of killer playlists to soundtrack his jobs as a getaway driver for a team of bank robbers.
It’s a daffy conceit, and it might take you a track or two to fall into the stylized rhythm that marks Wright’s work—from Shaun of the Dead to Hot Fuzz to Scott Pilgrim vs. the World—and drop-kicks naturalism to the curb. But once its tires grip pavement, Baby Driver becomes a full-throttle ballet of motion, color, and sound. The tunes are great, the getaway chases will leave you breathless, and the motley team of robbers—which includes Kevin Spacey, Eiza González, and an excellent Jamie Foxx—comes from the kind of screenplay you wish Tarantino still wrote. And a superbly villainous Jon Hamm shows there’s more to his post-Mad Men career than H&R Block ads.
The movie’s not without problems: Elgort has the required physical grace, but isn’t an interesting enough actor to make the near-silent Baby a wholly compelling character, and his love interest, a waitress named Debora (Lily James), is more Oedipal fantasy figure than three-dimensional woman. But when that engine revs and Baby pops in the earbuds, Wright’s love letter to the American cinematic tradition of cars and guns is an undeniable blast. He’s got his hands on the wheel of the coolest ride to hit theaters this summer.