Ambulance is pure, unadulterated Bayhem. The kind only one of the most polarizing directors in American cinema can deliver. I felt like I needed an Advil and a nap after watching this movie. Michael Bay would probably take that as a compliment.
You know Hollywood as a whole is in a bad way when I look forward to a Bay movie because at least its vision is confined to a singular work. Ambulance isn’t looking to set up a ten movie franchise, blessed so. It may be far from a great movie, but it’s a breath of fresh air to see a high-concept actioneer that doesn’t feature any indestructible, spandex-clad crimefighters.
Also: if this film really only cost $40 million, as has been reported, that’s nothing short of impressive.
A remake of a 2005 Danish flick written by TV writer Chris Fedak (Chuck, Prodigal Son), the film is about two bank-robbing brothers looking to get the hell out of dodge with $32 million in cash. Will (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Candyman) is a jobless war veteran who gets into his wealthy yet shady brother Danny’s (Jake Gyllenhaal) scheme when he arrives to his compound desperately seeking a loan. Instead, his request for $230,000 turns into him being an integral piece in Danny’s robbery. Sidenote: Danny’s crime family took in the orphaned Will when he was a boy, hence the brotherly connection.
In a scenario absolutely everyone could’ve predicted save for those who conducted it, the robbery turns sloppy and violent fast, resulting in Will and Danny hijacking an ambulance. Inside the ambulance is an EMT named Cam (Eiza González, I Care a Lot), who is desperately trying to save the life of a critically injured police officer (Jackson White) — the same one Will and Danny used to facilitate the robbery. With LAPD hot on their tails plus a dying man and a medic having the worst shift of her life onboard, the brothers are caught up in a destructive, high-speed chase through Los Angeles, with no alley, highway, or river off limits.
Bay incorporates some of his best and worst tendencies as a director into Ambulance; his strengths and flaws jointly on display as a reminder of why he draws the ire he does. His restless style of shooting dramatic moments as if they’re a car chase is still frustrating. His camera never stops moving, such as in the opening scene that captures Will on the phone with an insurance company with dizzying swoops and irksome wobbling. His propensity to capture blinding sunlight has all the pleasure of staring at an eclipse with the naked eye.
Thankfully, Bay does know how to shoot long-stretches of chaos with some visual clarity. Ambulance goes from one set-piece to the next with the kind of fluidity only a seasoned pro could conduct (and a good editor in Pietro Scalia). It doesn’t care if you can’t keep up with the changing plans and swift maneuvers into oncoming traffic.
Gyllenhaal and Abdul-Mateen II are rock-solid in their performances. Gyllenhaal is enjoyably unhinged (one of his more underrated acting traits) while Abdul-Mateen II can mine empathy from someone just by the look in his eyes.
Garret Dillahunt adds some gravitas to the performance room as the gruff LAPD Captain, showing up late to the robbery on his day off, humorously sporting USC Trojans gear. His partner in this madness is a more level-headed Keir O’Donnell. The two share some moments of chemistry brought on by opposite energies. It’s one of the less intrusive subplots in a film that gets crowded with them.
Let’s be honest, however: you come to Ambulance for the action sequences. And this film is essentially a long-running chase, as exhausting as it is exhilarating. The impact of the collisions is often felt, and there’s a rousing quality to all the spectacle that does make it entertaining. Yet as is customary with Bay movies, it all goes on for far too long. This would’ve been a very good, maybe great, 100-minute affair. At over two hours, its gears start to grind; especially the third act, which feels like it was conducted in slow-motion. Bay never encountered a concept he couldn’t overdo.
I’m not the first to make this comparison, but I’ll affirm that Ambulance does have the look and feel of getting five stars in Grand Theft Auto V and trying to survive as long as you can. That effect could’ve worked extremely well for a significantly shorter film. Instead, Ambulance is total muchness. Much of it is fun, but much of it is tiring.
NOTE: Ambulance is now playing exclusively in theaters.
Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Eiza González, Garret Dillahunt, Keir O’Donnell, and Jackson White. Directed by: Michael Bay.
Steve Pulaski has been reviewing movies since 2009 for a barrage of different outlets. He graduated North Central College in 2018 and currently works as an on-air radio personality. He also hosts a weekly movie podcast called "Sleepless with Steve," dedicated to film and the film industry, on his YouTube channel. In addition to writing, he's a die-hard Chicago Bears fan and has two cats, appropriately named Siskel and Ebert!