I’ve thrown a lot of lawn darts with sticks of dynamite attached to them at Michael Bay films over the years. If I remember correctly, one of the first times I pissed off a rabid fanbase was when I called The Rock a piece of shit back in 1996.
I stand by that original assessment: The Rock was a piece of shit. Those insert shots of Sean Connery running were unintentionally hilarious.
Through the years, my stance on Michael Bay has softened a bit, especially when he toys with self-parody as he did with Bad Boys II and Pain and Gain. While all of his Transformers movies were pure torture—and don’t get me started on Armageddon and Pearl Harbor—he has made some serviceable films in recent years.
Ambulance is an interesting effort from Bay in that it tries to put all those high-octane Bay-isms—quick cuts, handheld cameras, swirly shots, etc.—in the back of a moving ambulance while making an attempt at actual drama. Unfortunately, Ambulance misses the mark, but it is a sometimes-enjoyable miss, featuring decent acting performances desecrated by Bay’s trademark rapid-fire editing.
Rapid-fire editing and runtimes exceeding two hours do not mix. My threshold for this sort of visual experience—where shots are about 1.5 seconds long, on average—is a strict 90 minutes. Anything past that, and we are heading into headache-in-my-eye-holes territory. Well … Ambulance clocks in at 2 hours and 16 minutes.
The premise is simple enough: A strapped-for-cash veteran (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) goes to his somewhat shady brother (Jake Gyllenhaal) for a loan—and instantly finds himself in one of those “nothing could go wrong” bank robbery schemes that, of course, will most certainly go wrong. After an impressive bank-heist sequence, the brothers wind up driving an ambulance as a getaway car—with an earnest paramedic (Eiza Gonzalez) and gravely wounded cop (Jackson White) in the back.
What results is an utterly implausible chase movie, with the ambulance driving around Los Angeles for what seems like days as various law enforcement vehicles, including helicopters, follow in pursuit. The script (a remake of the 2005 Danish film Ambulancen) tells us that the tires on the vehicle will not be shot out, because there’s a wounded cop in there, but the idea that they can’t get these guys to pull over becomes tired after about 15 minutes. Also, let it be said that the original Ambulancen was only 80 minutes long.
Much of the action takes place inside the ambulance, and trying to put Bay’s form of filmmaking in a claustrophobic space like an ambulance is like trying to harness the energy of Satan’s favorite sun in a Tupperware container: This thing just spills all over the place visually. I think I got some of the bloody spleen-removal scene on my favorite jacket.
As Danny Sharp, Gyllenhaal is a trip; he’s quite simply one of the greatest actors working today. He deserved better at the hands of Bay and his editors, because this fantastic performance is diced into spurts, blinks and splats.
Abdul-Mateen—very good in Candyman and OK as the new Morpheus in The Matrix Resurrections—gives it his all as the sweeter brother who just wants money to pay for his wife’s medical procedures; he screams and yells with much conviction. Gonzalez is the true scene-stealer as Cam, the paramedic who strives to be perfect without getting attached to patients. Blink and you will miss the great Garret Dillahunt as a law-enforcement captain, and Keir O’Donnell (so brilliant in Wedding Crashers) as an FBI guy with an intriguing twist regarding to Danny.
At the halfway mark, I was actually leaning toward recommending this movie—but I wound up feeling done with the film 30 minutes before it actually ended. Bay has made much worse films, and the performers almost save the picture. Unfortunately, they needed the camera to stay on them for more than two seconds at a time to pull it off.
Ambulance is playing at theaters across the valley.