‘Ambulance’ Review: The Bay Down in L.A.
By Daniel Rester
Cinema’s go-to man for blowing shit up real good has returned. Michael Bay’s latest is Ambulance, written by Chris Fedak and based on a 2005 Danish film. Working within a smaller budget than his usual bombastic blockbusters (only $40 million here), Bay keeps the action closer to the central characters than usual but does still find some time to display a few insane shootouts and massive car pile-ups. In doing so, Ambulance’s style feels more in line with his earlier action flicks than his more recent, overfunded works.
The setup is simple, with veteran Will Sharp (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) seeking financial assistance from his bad boy brother Danny (Jake Gyllenhaal). He needs the money to pay for his wife’s surgery. Instead of giving Will a loan, Danny quickly brings him into a planned bank robbery in Los Angeles. Of course the heist goes wrong, leading to Danny and Will escaping in an ambulance. Along with them is an injured cop and a determined EMT named Cam (Eiza Gonzalez).
Fedak’s writing and Bay’s directing waste no time in getting the plot going. Things pop off quick with a bank shootout that echoes Heat (1995) in ways, though with a far less masterful handling. Danny is talked up as a big-time robber (37 of them) later in the film, yet the robbery displayed shows work by a more incompetent type.
The shootout occurs only after Danny, not even wearing a mask, lets a cop enter the bank and flirt with a teller. He also makes dumb decisions later on, like having an escape vehicle painted bright green and trusting some obviously-going-to-backstab-you gang members. And don’t even get me started on him slowing a police pursuit so Cam can try to perform surgery on the dying cop.
Poor logic like this runs throughout the film, though in less amounts than usual in Bay projects. Thankfully his idiotic and sexual humor touches are toned-down too; one cop character does make some silly jokes about Bay’s previous films though, which comes across as more awkward than meta. The frantic camerawork (including spinning shots during basic conversations and wild drone shots throughout), chaotic editing, American flags, slo–mo helicopters, and other Bay trademarks are all here though.
Bay is no George Miller, but he seems to be having fun in crafting what is essentially one long car chase sequence for most of the running time. The pacing is fast and the staging of some of the vehicle smashing is impressive. While much of it is exciting stuff, it does eventually turn exhausting. This should have been a tight, 100-minute actioner. Bay and his team stretch it to 136 minutes.
The three main cast members are really the glue that holds Ambulance together even as it becomes preposterous. Gyllenhaal may be playing a stupid robber, but he still brings weight and energy to his performance. The actor can’t help but be compelling, even when he is yelling about flamingos in one scene. Gonzalez and rising star Abdul-Mateen II are responsible for trying to ground the situations and bringing in some occasional warmth.
Ambulance doesn’t entirely escape Bay’s worst instincts, but it also isn’t nearly as abysmal as some of his bloated Transformers sequels. It’s a slick, entertaining ride that feels like it could have come out in the mid-90s when Speed (1994) had made an impact and Bay was first becoming a filmmaker. The strong cast here certainly assists Bay in making this better than it could have been.
My Grade: 6.5/10 (letter grade equivalent: B-)
Running Time: 2h 16min