Ambulance : Movie Review
To be frank and honest, if there’s one thing Michael Bay can be counted on to do, it’s being consistent in trying to outdo himself visually and making mountains where molehills would suffice. His 136-minute remake of the 80-minute, same-titled Dutch film Ambulance goes on for way too long while throwing every possible stalling tactic and conflict in front of its protagonists, hoping like hell we’ll be entertained.
To be fair, it does the job it sets out to do – it keeps audiences on the edge of their seats while a hijacked ambulance careens through busy Los Angeles streets, alleys, and highways. (Although how in the hell are you going to get the 405 with such light traffic near rush hour?!) Realism has never existed in Michael Bay films, and thank God he hasn’t started yet, because this wholly harebrained film requires such fantastic leaps of logic and dismissal of any kind of physics to make it go.
One can imagine Bay sitting in front of his large screen at home, digesting the original film and following it up with a double feature of Jan de Bont’s Speed and Michael Mann’s Heat – the former about a bus that can’t stop and the latter loosely based on the North Hollywood Shootout – and saying, “Okay. I got this.” And writer Chris Fedak knows that there’s only so far he can take an ambulance commandeered by two bank-robbing brothers with two hostages in the back of it. So Bay does his usual sleight-of-hand, dazzling us with fast editing, constant yelling, and dizzying photography, abetted greatly by pushing drones past any speed we’ve seen in films up until now.
Fedak’s penchant for throwing people into situations beyond their ken was evident as far back as his 2005 television hit “Chuck.” Instead of putting a meek big-box store tech support guy into the middle of covert operations on a weekly basis, he’s set himself enough time and a huge arena in which to put embattled veteran Will Sharp (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) and his estranged, ne’er-do-well adoptive brother Danny (Jake Gyllenhaal) in a live-fire Kobayashi Maru test, where successful (or less harmful) options disappear by the second.
After not having seen Danny for years, Will turns to him for a loan to cover his wife’s cancer treatments when his insurance fails him. This knock on how American bureaucracy turns its back on its veterans notwithstanding, it at least gets him back in a room with Danny, who frantically tells him that he needs Will’s help to pull off a $32 million bank heist, and that’s how Danny’s going to loan him the money. Before you can say “My poverty and not my will (pun intended?) consents,” we’re off with Danny, Will, and Danny’s band of miscreants, who range from intense mercenary types to some dude who wears Birkenstocks to the heist.
The script plays right into Bay’s hands, being stocked with thinly-developed, arch characters whose setups are quick and whose fates you’ll guess almost as soon as you meet them. (Fedak also takes a moment to directly reference two of Bay’s films, a genuinely masturbatory moment that will make your face will freeze from how hard you cringe. Or you might find this forced cinematic jerk-off hilarious. Who knows?) Some reserve is held back for Danny’s background being doled out in snatches, but the slow buildup toward making him some kind of menace is just another distraction. Instead, it’s played off as a layer of Danny’s personality that says something about him, but his actions don’t match.
As the title implies, Danny and Will have to hijack an ambulance responding to their heist, which has now broken out into a gunfight on the city streets. No-nonsense, impersonal, get-the-job-done-at-all-costs EMT Cam (Eiza González) not only has to put up with being a hostage in a car chase, but she also has to keep a wounded cop alive on the gurney in the back. With each passing second, he loses more blood from an unseen wound, thus necessitating meatball surgery in one of the best and most hilarious scenes in the entire film. This scene alone is worth the price of admission, and every visual and sound element is pushed to the limit to make this a tight, suspenseful jolt of adrenaline.
Truthfully, isn’t that all Michael Bay wants? To inject us like Vincent Vega did to Mia Wallace in Pulp Fiction? This is what you get when you buy a ticket for Ambulance, which has its excitement levels ratcheted up to 100 out of a possible score of 10, but it’s only in the visuals and sound design. You have to put up with a script that borders on the stultifying due to its abundance of “let’s see how they get out of this one” maneuvers that defy any sense of logic or realism, but that’s pretty much the fun right there. The other half is watching Bay work within the smallest budget he’s had since 2013’s Pain and Gain while making it look like something three times its $40 million cost.
It’s Michael Bay doing what he does best – gargantuan, you-are-THERE spectacle with cameras that don’t stop moving with talented, good-looking actors delivering mediocre lines with all their skill. But on some primordial gut level, Ambulance works, succeeding at being more than what its iffy script wants it to be. It’s a throwback to gritty exploitation films without the grit, a morality tale dressed up in fast-action clothing. It’s loud, in your face, and blatantly unrepentant about the mayhem – sorry, the Bayhem – it perpetrates, much less about the carnage left in its wake.
MPAA Rating: R for intense violence, bloody images, and language throughout.
Running time: 136 minutes. (Which includes what is probably the fastest credits sequence in modern action movie history.)
Released by Universal Pictures.