The Plot: Will (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) needs money for an expensive operation and to support his family. He reconnects with his career criminal brother Danny (Jake Gyllenhaal), who comes from a long line of bad trouble. Having been adopted into Danny’s family, Will sees a way out of his predicament by joining his team in staging a heist at a Los Angeles bank. It quickly descends into chaos and the brothers make their getaway in an ambulance by taking hostage paramedic Cam (Eiza Gonzalez) and the wounded cop that Will accidentally shot. They might be able to avoid life in jail if they can keep the cop alive, but their bigger problem is escaping the LAPD who are in hot pursuit…
The Verdict: As Bette Davis imperiously declared in All About Eve, fasten your seatbelts – it’s going to be a bumpy night. The latest Michael Bay vehicle Ambulance has roared onto our screens, but with a bit more sensibility this time around. After the head-pounding excess and success of numerous Transformers films, it’s back to cinematic nuts and bolts for Bay. This is one of his smaller-scale films on a more modest budget, but with the kind of explosive Bayhem that we’ve come to either love or hate, depending on your point of view. For what it’s worth though, Ambulance gets a lot of things right in the way it structures and streamlines its story to be one long chase movie with a Los Angeles flair. Think Heat crossed with Speed, then run through the Bay filmmaking factory and out comes a propulsive L.A. crime thriller that knows exactly what it is.
That being a remake of sorts of the 2005 Danish comedy of the same name, adapted here by Chris Fedak to suit Bay’s conflicted anti-hero rubbing up against the wrong arm of the law and wrestling with it over the course of two plus hours. The script is a bit more fleshed out than one might expect for a Bay film and has a serious tone. The characters are not just straightforward, cops and robbers archetypes. There’s more going on underneath the surface. The anti-hero here is Will, the sensible and more reasonable brother who isn’t averse to robbing banks as long as there’s no collateral damage. His brother Danny is the loose cannon on deck, ready to take a bullet or let someone who gets in his way be riddled with bullets. It’s a nicely contrasting set of characters for Abdul-Mateen II and Gyllenhaal to play, rooting their desperation and urgency in a race against time out of the city. Gonzalez also holds her own as a feisty, no-nonsense paramedic who has to resort to her own tactics to stay alive as police snipers and an even bigger problem close in fast.
Bay recently compared his explosions to constructing a Caesar salad. The kind that comes with a L.A. twist, like the one you can get in the Musso & Frank Grill in Hollywood. The secret sauce is in keeping it real and in camera, bathing it in that distinctive Bay magic hour light. He stages some impressive and explosive action across the city, even aping Heat’s iconic street shoot-out at one point. Bay is not beyond self-referencing either, name-dropping some of his earlier films with a sly nod. It’s mildly excessive but without overly giving the impression that your ears are being assaulted by loud gunfire or your brain by a lack of plot logic. In some respects, one has to wonder how much mileage Bay can get out of an ambulance simply being chased by the police. A good chunk of plot actually by keeping the conflicted characters and their motivations in check, though the film goes on a good bit longer than it needs to. A tighter edit might have been snappier, but there’s still much to enjoy in this one wild ride of a popcorn film. Maybe Bay should steer away from $200m behemoths and make more interesting, character-focused films like this. If that sounds like faint praise, then it is. Strap yourself in and let the Bayhem commence.