DVD reviews: Baby Driver, Cars 3, Office Christmas Party and more

Edgar Wright’s boy racer film is all speed and no substance, while The Philadelphia Story shows that Hollywood comedies once valued both sexes

Fast cars, glib quips, young blood and a marshmallow in place of a soul – yep, Baby Driver (Sony, 15) is on shelves this week, but so is Cars 3 (Disney, U), and, frankly, I could be talking about either. That won’t please the already large and ardent fan club for Edgar Wright’s bright, boyish, sherbety spin on Drive, which has all the right moves and tunes to secure the bro-classic status it so eagerly seeks. Steered by Ansel Elgort’s cupcake-faced but wickedly fast getaway driver – called, yes, Baby – it’s a neo-retro pile-up of sharp poses, Smartie-shell surfaces and perfect jukebox picks, from Martha Reeves and the Vandellas to T Rex.

Indeed, it’s practically more musical than action film, seemingly moulded around its soundtrack rather than the other way round, with car chases as its snazzily choreographed production numbers. (And I do mean snazzy: there’s road ballet here that makes the more recent Fast & Furious films look galumphing by comparison.) The joyride’s fun to a point, but it doesn’t take long to see that Baby Driver’s about nothing more than its own self-impressed genre design: who is Baby when his headphones are off, and why should we care to know? As a thriller, it’s a bust, gradually succumbing to a strangely drab, nasty bullet fetish. As a sheer exercise in swagger, meanwhile, it hasn’t found in Elgort the movie star to carry it through.

Still, however recycled its pleasures, Baby Driver has a new car smell fresher than anything in Cars 3. Eleven years into its least endearing franchise, Pixar is barely attempting to mask the primary reason for extending it this far. It’s an elaborate action-figure marketing promo, assembled with vim and expertise in the animation department, and a script that still can’t make us invest emotionally in anthropomorphised engines. You can’t say it doesn’t do its job, but coming from a company that sells itself on its ideas, Cars 3 is dispiriting stuff.

The distributors of Office Christmas Party (eOne, 15) understandably waited nearly a year to bring this fratboy-ish festive farce out on DVD, though they might have held out a month longer. Even with the high-street Christmas lights ablaze and Mariah Carey already echoing down the supermarket aisles, November feels a mite early for seasonal silliness on the scale of Josh Gordon and Will Speck’s self-explanatory, hit-and-miss comedy. Jason Bateman, Kate McKinnon and Jennifer Aniston all gamely hit their marks; the film’s retrograde gender politics, not so much.

It’ll do in a pinch, but you could just pop in Criterion’s shiny new reissue of The Philadelphia Story (Sony, PG) instead, and remember what it was like when Hollywood studios wrote comedies with equal interest in the sexes. With Katharine Hepburn, Cary Grant and Jimmy Stewart this lithe and smart, how could they not? Seventy-seven years on, George Cukor’s star-dusted romcom of remarriage bounces and glides and sparks like a dream, light as pavlova but with the requisite slosh of vinegar. There may be nothing seasonal about it, but it feels like a holiday in itself.

Now, a pair of low-key arthouse objects of intrigue. Tim Sutton’s humming, quivering mood piece Dark Night (Thunderbird, 12) is an elliptical prelude to real-life horror, stalking the disconnected residents of a summer-dried slab of Florida suburbia with what seems like idle intent. A late jolt brings its hazy perspective into focus, as an armed individual opens fire in a cinema. The title becomes a grim pun on the 2012 massacre in a Colorado screening of The Dark Knight Rises, and Sutton’s film emerges as a silent scream in response to America’s ongoing plague of gun violence.

Finally, I’ve lately been neglecting the obscure treasures of Festival Scope, a free streaming website dedicated to the kind of film festival discoveries that don’t have clear commercial paths forward – such as Clément Cogitore’s brain-needling debut The Wakhan Front, a fringe Cannes standout from 2015. Bringing an elegantly uncanny, semi-supernatural twist to its study of military ennui in Afghanistan, it subtly allows for a wealth of metaphorical possibilities in its central crisis as a French captain (Jérémie Renier) finds his soldiers vanishing, one by one, into thin, cold air. Call it the war zone meets The Twilight Zone; it deserves more visibility.

The Wakhan Front trailer – video

Contributor

Guy Lodge

The GuardianTramp

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