At this point, you’ll know whether or not the Michael Bay brand of film is for you. That being said, Ambulance is Bay going full Bay – and he’s aligned with just the right plot for his stylings.
The Transformers, Armageddon, The Rock director is firmly in his wheelhouse with Ambulance, a break-neck actioner based on a 2005 Danish film of the same name (Ambulancen, in Danish). The basic plot: two brothers find themselves in a high-speed pursuit after a bank heist goes completely wrong, speeding across L.A. in an ambulance also holding an injured police officer (Jackson White) and a paramedic (Eiza González). Boom. That’s all you need. The film wastes no time in getting us to the action, quickly introducing us to Yahya Abdul-Mateen II‘s war veteran, Will, who needs a huge amount of cash for his wife’s surgery. Reluctantly, he reaches out to his adoptive criminal brother, Danny (Jake Gyllenhaal), who takes advantage of his brother’s desperation and quickly convinces him to join him in a heist to score $US32 million.
Bay’s signature elements are plastered all over this two-hour-plus thrill ride, which, again, means you’re either onboard or you’re not. The filmmaker’s ever-moving, swooping shots are taken to the extreme here; it’s more than just a swinging camera during every conversation – now we’re talking a plethora of dizzying angles provided by some incredible drone work. There’s insane camera work on display. He’s packed in impressive, almost vertigo-inducing visuals – so it’s also understandable if some viewers get a little woozy, particularly mixed in with the fast-cut editing crafted by three editors. It’s ultra-kinetic filmmaking – and it suits this mayhem perfectly. And with it all backed up with a thumping, stressful score from Lorne Balfe, Bay makes good on his mission to put you in the chase.
This is actually a “small” film for Bay. With a budget reportedly in the $US40 million range, he’s working with far less cash than has previously been afforded to him with the likes Armageddon, Pearl Harbor, and, of course, the Transformers franchise. Still, fans will not be left wanting – Bay’s expected displays of pyrotechnic and destruction porn are here. There are plenty of cars wrecked as Will and Danny make their way through L.A, and an epic scope is provided to sequences with the use of multiple choppers. As our boys and their hostages make their way through it all, one thing’s for sure: you’ll end up thinking ambulances are basically tanks when it comes to withstanding obstacles.
While there’s plenty of drama scattered throughout the tension, as our brothers deal with their spiraling predicament and their relationship is provided more backstory, Bay and screenwriter Chris Fedak (the Chuck series co-creator and Legend of Tomorrow scribe/EP making his feature debut) ensure there’s often a self-awareness to the craziness and the “Bayhem” of it all. In a guffaw-inducing moment, for example, characters even make reference to Bay’s previous films. There’s also a surgery sequence that escalates to levels so absurd it’s almost applaud-worthy. It’s bonkers stuff – and the Bay team knows it.
Of course, the technical craftsmanship and the wild tone wouldn’t matter too much if dramatic thrust was lacking. Thankfully, Ambulance has three strong leads who nail their characters and provide us three different angles from which to experience the unfolding chaos. As expected, Abdul-Mateen II and Gyllenhaal deliver strong performances, with Gyllenhaal, in particular, relishing his character’s over-the-top, borderline coked-up persona. He’s a lot of fun. Through all the yelling (and there’s plenty of it), the love between these two clashing brothers comes through, and it’s in no small part thanks to our two stars. González is also very good as Cam Thompson, the paramedic caught up in one hell of a situation. Bouncing through bouts of fear, determination, and resilience, González does well with a character that serves as a highly respectful nod to first responders.
While I have been heaping praise on it, Ambulance does have some defects. The flashbacks to the brothers as children are a little on the nose, especially since they don’t really serve the story much (awwh, look, they’ve been brothers for ages). The film is also a bit too long, threatening exhaustion with what feels like one climax after another. It does, though, lead to a satisfying and appropriately emotive conclusion. These are small speed humps on a fast-moving ride.
Ambulance is energetic, in-your-face, and, importantly, entertaining escapism. Switch the brain off, strap on the seat belt, and hold on.