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film review

Darling (Eiza Gonzalez) and Buddy (Jon Hamm) in Baby Driver.Wilson Webb

In the deep recesses of my home rests a book called Quentin Tarantino: The Cinema of Cool. The 1995 paperback was a sought-after purchase the year of its publication, as I was then in the throes of a deep Tarantino obsession – a quasi-mortifying rite of passage that might ring true for any white, straight, male film geek of my vintage. The quickie book by Jeff Dawson was a decently researched ode to Tarantino's blitzkrieg on pop culture, and I recall rushing through it over a weekend, only to start it again come Monday morning. But more than its content, it was the subtitle that hooked me: The Cinema of Cool.

It was as if I'd discovered my teenage mantra – or at least pulled a Jeff Goldblum in Annie Hall and magically retrieved my mantra out of thin air. (Yeah, I also experienced a Woody Allen phase just before Tarantino. Kids!) "The cinema of cool," I remember saying to myself. "Yeah, that's what movies should be." Eventually, Dawson's book and its immortal subtitle got lost in a stack of decidedly more mature treatises on Brakhage, Godard, Lubitsch and the like – you know, serious cineaste stuff. But all of a sudden it came back to me, incessantly so, while watching Edgar Wright's Baby Driver.

Baby Driver is a film that bleeds cool. Telling the story of a young getaway driver (Ansel Elgort) forced into a life of crime by a ruthless Atlanta gangster (Kevin Spacey), the British filmmaker's ode to the most American of genres, the heist film, is a zippy slice of expertly soundtracked carnage. It has perfectly choreographed car chases, bank heists and shootouts. It has a witty setup, wiseass heroes and a vast warehouse of one-liners. It has actors you know and love (Jon Hamm, Jamie Foxx) having a ball being bad. It has a jukebox-gone-berserk selection of songs. It is, as Dawson or a young me might put it, the height of "the cinema of cool."

And in a summer movie season as dire as this one, we need all the cool we can get. The buzz on Baby Driver has been building rapidly since it premiered at the South by Southwest festival in March, when "cool" was unofficially adopted as the film's own subtitle. (The latest trailer is front-loaded with this quote for the ages: "The coolest damn movie you've ever seen.") And indeed, watching most of it, it is so very easy to succumb to Wright's Tarantinoesque bombardment of cool. Cool driving, cool women, cool tunes, cool villains – cool to the nines.

But in being so very cool, Baby Driver, like my own adolescent sensibilities, speeds right past anything resembling maturity or restraint. Each of Wright's car chases tops the one before it – to the point where it can be difficult to invest in the outcome. Our hero – in fact, every single character – makes truly stupefying decisions that just don't track given what we've come to learn about them thus far, even if they operate in what's clearly a whacked-out underworld. And the finale is a sloppy mix of video-game-inspired "boss level" antics and a manufactured fantasy that's as studio-tested safe as anything out of Hollywood's intellectual property machine this summer.

Is all that enough to flatten Baby Driver's tires? Not quite. Wright has a peerless skill in syncing up his images to the beats and rhythms of a diverse soundtrack, giving new life to tracks that have long seemed exhausted (you might actually want to listen to Tequila once again). Spacey hasn't been used this well since – forever? At least since The Usual Suspects, and here Wright better employs his natural mix of sleaze and sincerity. And Foxx is a monster presence in the best sense of the word. So for its first 80 minutes or so, I was thrilled to wallow in Wright's cool world. Genre immaturity isn't without its charms, after all.

But when all you're left with is a mad dash to the end, it's hard to reconcile how cool something is with how cool it should have been. Baby Driver is fast and furious and fun as hell, but its cinema of cool may melt down in the coming years, another artifact of reckless, headstrong youth.

Baby Driver opens June 28 across the country.