‘Ambulance’ Review: Michael Bay’s Absurd Chase Film Is His Best in Decades
Bay scales back for a wild and crazy action film that is a hell of a ride.
“We don’t stop” almost becomes a mantra for Will Sharp (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) and his adopted brother, Danny (Jake Gyllenhaal), who have hijacked an ambulance after a bank robbery gone wrong. Not only has their attempt at a big score left a pile of bodies in its wake, but they’re driving around with a hostage EMT, Cam Thompson (Eiza González), who is trying to keep police officer Zack (Jackson White) alive, after Will shot him in their attempt to escape. To make matters worse, this ambulance is flying through the streets of Los Angeles, chased by cops and helicopters, and attempting to avoid pretty much any obstacle one can imagine. Will and Danny don’t stop because they can’t stop. Like a shark, if they stop, they know they’ll die.
Similarly, Michael Bay is also someone who at times doesn’t seem to know when to stop. While the beginning of Bay’s career was packed with over-the-top action films that were a joy to revel in, like Bad Boys, The Rock, and Armageddon, his work can often feel like a slog that doesn’t know when to quit. The last two decades of Bay’s work have been packed with five different Transformers films, and while we occasionally got glimpses of the absurd fun that started Bay’s career with something like 2013’s Pain & Gain, Bay has mostly become known for his excess and exhaustion.
Yet with Ambulance—Bay’s fifteenth film and first theatrical release since 2017’s Transformers: The Last Knight—Bay has tapped into that earlier version of himself, back when he could go big, ridiculous, and maintain a level of excitement and fun throughout an entire film. From the moment Ambulance gets going, it doesn’t stop, and for the first time in a long time, Bay makes this adventure compelling from beginning to end.
In Ambulance, Will Sharp is a veteran who needs $231,000 for his wife’s surgery. With his benefits falling short, Will talks to his brother Danny, who convinces him to help with a bank heist that will earn the entire crew $32 million. Of course, the robbery goes south, and as the only surviving members of their team, Will and Danny take control of an ambulance, complete with the aforementioned EMT and injured officer along for the ride. Trying to stop these two are Captain Monroe (Garret Dillahunt) and FBI Agent Anson Clark (Kein O’Donnell), along with what seems like the entire Los Angeles police department.
As one would expect from Bay, Ambulance is still packed with plenty of illogical moments that are as preposterous as they are laughable. Written by Chris Fedak (Chuck, Prodigal Son) and based on the 2005 Danish film of the same name, Ambulance embraces the inherent ludicrous nature of a Michael Bay film. For example, on their spree to safety, it doesn’t seem to matter than Will and Danny likely cause the death of dozens of police officers, only that they save the one they’re driving. Bay and Fedak pack Ambulance with outlandish surprises, character connections, and a truly unbelievable amount of close calls. But Ambulance is also a film that Bay and Fedak know people will either embrace for what it is, or completely disregard, and Ambulance rightfully decides to play to the audience that is ready to go along for this ride.
And what a ride this is. Bay’s camera also truly can’t stop, as drone shots fly around with almost no clear intent but to add to the insanity, and even the simplest shots are filmed in the most grandiose and extravagant ways possible. But again, Bay seems inspired by the simpler, more straightforward action that he started his career with. Ambulance even directly quotes The Rock and Bad Boys, as if Bay knows these are exactly the types of films audiences want from him as a director. Yet with Ambulance, Bay is borrowing heavily from Michael Mann’s Heat, mixed with a copious amount of Jan de Bont’s Speed. The result is unpredictable and always compelling, a film that would be insane for anyone else, but feels like Bay going back-to-basics for the first time in a while.
But elevating Ambulance are the three performances at the center of the film, all of whom manage to avoid feeling like typical Bay stock characters. Before the action begins, Bay takes the time to set up the hopelessness in Will’s financial struggle, as well as Cam’s compassion for her patients that only lasts until she gets them to the hospital. Meanwhile, Gyllenhaal’s Danny is more of an uncertainty, a criminal who clearly loves his brother, but his shady past shows that he will also do anything to survive. Both Abdul-Mateen II and González are solid in sympathetic roles, but it’s Gyllenhaal’s ability to match Bay’s craziness that makes him a fascinating antihero.
It’s rare to find a film as gleefully wild as Ambulance, a balls-to-the-wall, a frenetic film that doesn’t attempt to make sense of all its craziness, but simply surrenders to it. Over the decades, Bay has continuously increased the scale of his action spectacles, and in doing so, has lost what made him such an entertaining action director in his earlier films. By cutting back and simply sticking to the thrills and the madness of this situation and little else, Bay has made one of his best films in decades.
Ambulance comes to theaters on April 8.
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