'Ambulance' review: Michael Bay chases down explosions and lunacy in latest thriller
Courtesy of Universal
Oh, Michael Bay.
On one hand, you must admire the filmmaker’s dexterity to where he can make a slim $40 million budgeted flick feel like one of his overpriced and overblown “Transformers'' movies, and on the other, the sense of whiplash endured during the relentless pacing and mindless never-serve-the-plot explosions don’t exactly make for captivating cinema. But damn is it fun. Bay is a showman and for many faults the filmmaker possess, a main priority is to always show audiences a good time and his latest go for broke, juiced up ride “Ambulance” plays like a greatest hits album of the director’s filmography. We’re talking a dizzying array of aerial drone shots, cheeseball one-liners, and a sense of urgency and tension that could only be described as the sequences in “Grand Theft Auto” where everyone and their sister is trying to chase you down after brutally assaulting innocent bystanders.
“Ambulance” is loud, obnoxious, and doused in sheer lunacy and it’s also kind of poetic? Nobody can orchestrate practical effects and destruction (“Bayham”) like the guy who somehow convinced us in “Armageddon” the solution was to send drillers, who are not astronauts, into space rather than teach astronauts how to drill. (Logistics were never a strong suit). Featuring a cranked-to-eleven sociopathic performance from Jake Gyllenhaal and another noteworthy turn from Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, “Ambulance” manages to fire on all cylinders even if you can’t believe a single frame of what you’re witnessing. Aimless pedestrians be damned and if an object can be rammed into for no other reason than it looks cool (condolences to several fruit and vegetable stands) it will perish without an afterthought or a moment to process.
The premise plays akin to a Red Bull version of Michael Mann’s classic “Heat,” though it's simpler and not as, uh, complex in the character work. Set in the gritty streets of Los Angeles, the movie follows down-on-his-luck veteran Will Sharp (Abdul-Mateen II) struggling to find a cash influx after his VA benefits failed to pay for experimental surgery. What was “experimental” is not important-all that matters is it sets-up the framework for a bank heist where the haul is north of $32 million. Lead by his adopted brother and notorious LA kingpin Danny (Gyllenhaal), Will reluctantly steps in as the getaway driver. As Danny explains, it’ll be an easy switcharoo, nobody will get hurt, and they’ll be in and out in 10-minutes. Nothing could possibly go wrong.
But things go wrong very quickly and before you can shove a handful of popcorn in your mouth, Will and Danny hijack an ambulance with Cam (Eiza Gonzalez), a troubled EMT, and a police officer bleeding out inside. The clock keeps ticking as just about anything and everything is used for batting practice while Bay, along with screenwriter Chris Fedak, shove an entire ensemble of characters who serve minimal purpose into the movie. Roles like police chief’s, detectives, and field agents played by Garret Dillahunt and Keir O’Donnell goose an already elongated runtime. There’s weird detours featuring couples therapy sessions, someone taking care of an adorable canine and an individual wanting to ask a bank teller on a date, which is what, ironically enough, sets the entire movie in motion. If flying saucers showed-up midway through the movie, Dominic Toretto and the “Fast and Furious” crew, or if a sequel called “Firetruck” was teased, I honestly wouldn’t have been surprised. Somehow Bay would’ve convinced me they belonged in the movie.
And that’s to say you’re either here for the craziness or looking for a quick headache. Nobody expects less from a Michael Bay movie and this fan understands there are limitations to what can be forgiven, including a sequence, and I’m not making this up, where trauma surgery is performed while the ambulance goes 60 mph and doctors are trying to diagnose and give pointers on a spleen rupture via Zoom. If you didn’t already know it by then, Bay is clearly winking at the camera, acknowledging this is all silly. It’s up to the viewer to decide if he pulled it off. For better or worse, he sort of did.
AMBULANCE is now playing in theaters.