Blu-Ray Pick of the Week: Baby Driver

“The House” and “Wish Upon” are also new to Blu-Ray this week. 

Tinnitus is a bitch. It’s a constant sound heard in the ear when there is no source present. It’s typically reported as a ringing, but can also manifest itself as buzzing, hissing, whistling, swooshing, and clicking. The sufferer hears it all the time, with no reprieve, and a totally quiet environment exacerbates it because the sufferer concentrates on it all the more. What’s worse is there is no cure for it, only treatments to ease the strain and stress of dealing with it. Hearing devices that provide “white noise” are common to help deal with tinnitus.

Knowing that Baby (Ansel Elgort), the character referred to in the title “Baby Driver,” has tinnitus helps explain why he constantly has ear buds in his ears, hooked up to an ipod. The music helps drown out the tinnitus. The music does more than that though. It provides the soundtrack to his life. Whether he’s dancing around on the sidewalk on his way to get coffee, at home with his foster dad Joseph (CJ Jones), or driving burglars to safety in a get away car, the music is always playing and Baby keeps the beat.

“Baby Driver” is one part crime drama and one part ballet, with a bit of comedy thrown in. I got a seriously good laugh over a misinterpretation of what ringleader Doc (Kevin Spacey) meant when he told his crew to get “Michael Meyers Halloween masks.”

Eventually, however, the dancing stops and “Baby Driver” takes a more serious tone. The ballet becomes less of the dancing to the music variety and becomes more of the John Woo action variety. The movie naturally heads in this direction, so it makes sense—it just doesn’t work as well.

Part of the problem is with the inconvenience of the plot. It’s one thing to have a character’s obstacles be driven by his decisions—and there is plenty of that in “Baby Driver”—but it’s another thing entirely to have chance coincidences and rotten luck play such a large part in giving the character struggles to overcome. Some of that here and there is okay, but the conceit should be used sparingly. It gets poured on a bit thick for the last third of the movie. It’s as if writer/director Edgar Wright had written his main character as too smart and capable, so having Baby make bad decisions is out. Instead, let’s have incredibly bad luck happen to him to keep the story moving along. It’s like Deus Ex Machina, but if the devil interfered instead of God.

Plot issues aside, when all is said and done “Baby Driver” is a fast-paced, entertaining flick. The movie is also well cast, with Jon Hamm, Jon Bernthal, and Jamie Foxx appearing as various members of Doc’s differing burglary crews. We also get a love interest, of course, and Lily James is sweet, vulnerable, and charming as Debora, a young waitress at the local diner who just so happens to want to hit the road and head west the same as Baby does. Too bad she wants to do it with someone who has such rotten luck. But without it, this would have been a pretty short movie. Plus I’ll take plot inconveniences over happenchance conveniences any day. It’s much more interesting that way. Rent it.

Also New This Week

The House

Scott and Kate Johansen (Will Ferrell and Amy Poehler) are proud of their daughter Alex (Ryan Simpkins). She got accepted to Bucknell University and they are excited to spend the summer with her before she heads off. The problem is that a corrupt town councilman (Nick Kroll) has embezzled the town scholarship fund, meaning that Scott and Kate can’t afford to pay Alex’s tuition. What are parents to do?

“Take out some student loans,” you may say. Sure, it leaves parents and students in monstrously crippling debt, but it will allow Alex to attend the overpriced indoctrination center—er uh, “university” of her choice. If that is your answer, then you are smarter than Scott and Kate—and for that matter most of the characters in “The House”—because that is something they do not do. Instead, they partner with their close friend and gambling addict Frank (Jason Mantzoukas) to run an illegal casino out of Frank’s house.

The premise is flimsy, but that would be okay if the jokes were funny. They are not. The same old tired gags are trotted out throughout the movie, including but not limited to: a phallus painted on a football field; ordinary folks in over their heads who try to act tough; and a bumbling cop (Rob Huebel) who seems to be the only law enforcement officer in town. All of these old chestnuts need to go away for a while—or even forever. Not only are these tropes unfunny, they’re the sign of uninspired, lackluster writing.

There’s not a single spark of creativity in this movie. I got my hopes up a bit when the illegal casino started doing well and Scott developed a bit of a mobster persona. I thought the situation might be milked for some good satire on mob movies and TV shows. Sadly, it’s a totally wasted opportunity as nothing fresh or original comes out of it. Even worse, a couple of incredibly sadistic and overly bloody sequences of violence come out of nowhere from the mob gag and drag the movie down even lower than it already is, which is already pretty low. I have to give the movie credit there. “The House” is already pretty putrid garbage from the start, then it finds a way through its unnecessary brutality to sink even lower. Kudos, I guess, for lowering the bar into the ground. Skip it.

Wish Upon

Here we go again. “Wish Upon” is about a person who finds a box that brings her bad luck. For this movie, the person is young teenage girl Clare Shannon (Joey King). Her junk salvager father (Ryan Phillippe) gives her a box with ancient Chinese writing on it. The upshot is that the box grants seven wishes. If she wishes for something while holding the box, her wish will come true—for a price.

The price is of course ghastly and deadly. However, it would have been more suspenseful and interesting if the price only involved folks who she cares about and with whom she has a deep connection. Instead, the price is enacted on tangential folks in her life, including in one instance a young woman who Clare met briefly to get the writing on the box translated. The problem is probably with Clare herself, who except for her father only has two close friends she cares about: June (Shannon Purser) and Meredith (Sydney Park). The other four have to come from somewhere.

“Wish Upon” is standard fare. Stories about boxes that bring bad luck are as old as time, and it seems like every culture in the world has one. The beats of the story all hit at the pre-conceived times as dictated by the formula, and for a horror/suspense movie there really isn’t much of either. That said, there is nothing that is actually bad about the movie. It does what it does adequately. It’s just that what it does is so painfully mediocre. This movie is nothing special, but if there’s nothing else that looks good from your online streaming source on a rainy day, there are worse movies to spend ninety minutes watching. Stream it.

More New Releases: “The Beguiled,” Sofia Coppola’s remake of the 1971 Don Siegel melodrama starring Clint Eastwood, this time with Colin Farrell in the role of a wounded Union soldier who causes jealousy and disruption while hiding out at an all-girls boarding school behind Confederate lines; “Meat,” food documentary that offers a variety of perspectives, from a hunter to a family farmer; and “Armed Response,” about a team of highly trained operatives who find themselves trapped inside an isolated military compound after its artificial intelligence is suddenly shut down, starring Wesley Snipes and Anne Heche.

Andrew Hudak is a lifelong film lover. His column on Blu-Ray new releases appears every Tuesday. He lives in Connecticut.

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