Principal Cast : Jake Gyllenhaal, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Eiza Gonzalez, Garret Dillahunt, Keir O’Donnell, Jackson White, Olivia Stambouliah, Moses Ingram, Colin Woodell, Cedric Sanders, A Martinez, Jesse Garcia, Jose Pablo Cantillo, Wale Folarin, Victor Gojcaj.
Synopsis: Two robbers steal an ambulance after their heist goes awry.
Michael Bay, director of some of the 90’s most memorable action films, as well as the commercially successful Transformers live-action franchise, takes to the streets of Los Angeles with Ambulance, an English-language remake of a 2005 Danish film (the creators of which are credited here) that sees Jake Gyllenhaal and Yahya Abdul-Mateen careen through crisis after crisis following a largely unsuccessful bank heist. As nonsensical as it is visually discombobulating, Ambulance takes a trajectory of pure insanity as Bay, coupled with a legion of drones to assist with photography, as well as some slam-bang stunts, turn the roads of America’s second-biggest city into a chaotic, detritus-strewn melange of busted metal and blood. Is it a good film? Not at all – in fact, it’s patently absurd. Did I enjoy it? Hell yes!
Adoptive brothers Danny (Gyllenhaal) and Will Sharp (Abdul-Mateen II) find themselves hijacking a Los Angeles ambulance following an aborted bank heist which sees several members of their group dead. Pursued by an army of police, and holding hostage both an upstart paramedic (Eiza Gonzalez) and a critically injured LAPD Officer (Jackson White), Danny and Will navigate the streets of the bustling city with choppers and SWAT closing in. LAPD Captain Monroe (Garret Dillahunt) and FBI Agent Anson Clark (Keir O’Donnell) have varying methods of capturing the pair, and with the captured officer’s life on the line inside the back of the tank-like emergency vehicle neither presents good options for a safe recovery.
Sometimes you just want to sit back, switch the brain off and let somebody entertain you for a couple of hours. Some people watch sports. Some people read a book, or listen to a podcast. Some even watch movies. Michael Bay has become the ultimate escapism fetishist over the last thirty years, crafting his stylish filmmaking eye over some of the most financially successful and critically maligned movies of all time. He has occasionally turned his gaze upon semi-serious filmmaking as well, paying tribute to American soldiers with 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi, as well as true crime for Pain & Gain, but he has largely stayed well within his lane formulating grand action sequences and becoming the master of explosive Hollywood capital-C Cinema. Ambulance stays well within that wheelhouse, personifying a similar aesthetic and the narrative competency of 6 Underground, a formulaic Ryan Reynolds actioner that limped onto Netflix with a mild thud. It’s played with typical Bay-isms intact: shouty, heavily ADR’d dialogue, a weird off-kilter sense of humour percolating throughout, heavily saturated cinematography and a penchant for nonsensical action sequences playing out with thunderous tension and hyperbole.
Led by a wild-eyed Jake Gyllenhaal, sporting a rugged beard and at one point going all crazy-eyes Nightcrawler style, as well as an amenable turn from Yahya Abdul-Mateen (Aquaman), Ambulance kicks off with a phone call to an insurance company and ends up with two people face down on the LA pavement, surrounded by heavily armed police. The arc between these two points is a bullet-ridden, screeching-tyre cacophony of yelling and sweat, blood and emergency surgery at a hundred miles an hour, a mix of Speed and the kids game “Operation” delivered with anamorphic lenses and Bay’s ubiquitously closeup camerawork. The whole thing, written by screenwriter Chris Fedak, is a simple excuse for one long car chase and shootout, and if Bay has skills in only one area, it’s delivering raucous, blistering chase sequences and shootouts that will have your fingernails shredded with armrest material. Strung between loose-fitting plot mechanics, perplexing logic holes and a complete disdain for Los Angeles geography, Bay weaves this brotherly-love subplot of Danny and Will going their separate ways before coming back together thanks to an ill child and a lack of funds; machismo out the wahzoo, as one might say. It’s not intelligent, but it’s definitely entertaining.
The film is first and foremost a guided tour of the highways and backstreets of Los Angeles, a city that serves as a completely concrete character in this protracted pontification on just how easy it is to get around the city: I would estimate that people who don’t live in LA or have ever visited would not know if Danny and Will’s rubber-burning hijinks are practically possible in one of the world’s most heavily trafficked cities, but even if the various shooting locations aren’t really in the straight line the film makes them out to be, it’s a hell of a sweet travel brochure Bay has concocted. The bleached landscape of the concrete jungle is as unforgiving as Bay’s swirling camerawork – a lot filmed via drone technology, allowing for a lot of sweeping, previously physically impossible shots to proliferate throughout the movie – and at times you get that sinking, plummeting feeling in your stomach the way you do on a rocketing rollercoaster: I doubt the story really called for such showy prowess but hell, it’s Michael Bay and it’s always kitchen sink time. The action sequences are well shot and hugely epic, with Bay going a long way to replicating Michael Mann’s iconic Heat shootout sequence in the canyons of Los Angeles’ downtown, as well as ratcheting up the tension through the ambulance ride with heart failures, burst spleens, gunshots and a variety of subterfuge phone calls. Edited by a trio of Hollywood’s finest in Piero Scalia, Doug Brandt and Calvin Wimmer, they wring every bead of sweat and blood from every single sequence and generate a pure tsunami of dopamine to strike the viewer a number of times throughout.
Co-starring in this comet of crazy, Eiza Gonzalez plays the plucky EMT Cam Thompson, forced to keep a young police officer alive despite a crash-test-dummy approach to driving by Abdul-Mateen’s Will, and she’s a solid in the role as she is gorgeous on camera. Her character development is patently absurd, sure, and of course she’s got an attitude problem and disdain for doing things by the book, but Gonzalez sells it through sheer performance ferocity. She easily holds her own alongside the highly strung male leads inside the vehicle with her. Garret Dillahunt and Keir O’Donnell portray various official agency types hoping to capture or kill them, and both have some of the film’s best freestyle fun with their respective roles, while backstop roles to A Martinez, as a Mexican crime kingpin who helps Danny, Jackson White as the rookie cop having the worst day, and Cedric Sanders as his dedicated partner, Mark, perform great service to the nonsense before them.
Ambulance is a heck of a stupid film. It’s an absurdity, it truly is, and the characters are as broad-stroke one dimensional as you can get for a major feature film. But in the hands of Michael Bay, Ambulance positively sings with the thrum of concussive action insanity, a wallowing in burning rubber, flying bullets and excessive shouty preposterousness as can fit inside a two-hour film. In all seriousness, I think the film could have been trimmed by about 30 minutes and actually been a legitimate modern classic, but at a tick over 120 minutes Ambulance is a gloriously bloated Bayhem-filled exercise in absolutely getting the most out of a napkin-sized premise with every dollar on the screen. Make no mistake: Ambulance is an absolutely ridiculous movie, but it’s a hell of an entertaining one thanks to solid leading performances and the director’s cataclysmic cinematography and filmmaking hutzpah on display.