If you’re more interested in visual razzamatazz than small things like character development or interaction, Ambulance can be your movie. If you prefer fast, hyperkinetic camera movements and spasmodic editing over a cohesive narrative, Ambulance can be your movie. And if you prefer heightened tension and sarcastic retorts to well-written dialogue, Ambulance
can be your movie. After all, it’s a Michael Bay movie, and while it has all the Bay tropes, it’s unquestionably better than the likes of Transformers.
Two thirds of AmbulanceThe 135-minute running time is spent within the confines of an ambulance, which is involved in an unlikely high-speed chase through the streets and highways of Los Angeles. (The lack of traffic—relatively speaking—is one of the film‘s least believable aspects.) There are times when the film captures a similar vibe that made Speed so enjoyable, but the appeal of the characters (and the overall setting) is lacking. Speed incorporated more than mere technical bravery, while this quality is pretty much all that Ambulance
must hold it at 60 mph.
The film opens by introducing us to Will Sharp (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II). In his intro scene, we learn all the necessary things that show he’s a good guy who’s been given the tree – he’s a decorated soldier, he has a toddler son, his wife needs of an experimental operation that insurance won’t pay for (and it comes at a price north of $200,000), and nobody cares. The script is so thick that it almost looks like a parody. Needing a loan, Will turns to his bank robber brother, Danny (Jake Gyllenhaal), who just happens to have an opening on his team for an upcoming job. It turns out Danny doesn’t really have a plan and when things go wrong, he and Will hijack an ambulance to get out of Dodge. There’s a problem, though – the back is occupied by a badly injured cop that Will shot during the getaway (Jackson White) and the paramedic (Eiza Gonzalez) working on him.
The majority of the film is a combination of chase and chess with Danny matching wits with the two law enforcement chiefs chasing him – LAPD Captain Monroe (Garret Dillahunt) and the FBI agent Anson Clark (Keir O’Donnell). Monroe is the cliched macho man who makes appearances in most of Bay’s movies (although usually played by a more well-known actor) and Clark happens to be Danny’s college roommate. Small world.
Jake Gyllenhaal, who had just played Mephisto, must have had some leftover villain vibes that he needed to take down. What better outlet than a film that expects no more from him than to act more and more deranged? Although
Ambulance tries to develop character arcs for two of its three main characters, nothing like that applies to Danny. Meanwhile, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II and Eiza Gonzalez are doing what they can with guaranteed roles. No matter how outrageous the circumstances become, they keep their faces straight.
Bay came to the project, which had been doing the rounds in Hollywood for a while (it’s a remake of a 2005 Danish film), when he was going crazy due to COVID restrictions (his film project, a much larger matter, has been put on hold) . He wanted something low-budget ($40 million was the reported cost) with a small cast and a limited number of sets. From time to time, directors faced with such stripped-down limitations have achieved remarkable results. This is not one of those examples.
From the slow intro to the chaotic heist scenes (which happen quickly and randomly), the first 45 minutes of Ambulance struggling to find some kind of rhythm. Once the long ambulance chase begins, the film is on firmer footing and viewers will recognize aspects of the familiar Speed
model, but the film never achieves anything more substantial than being impressive eye candy. After a while, it becomes more exhausting than exhilarating.
Bay is looking more and more like a dinosaur – a seasoned filmmaker whose style and material don’t match today’s Hollywood. Over the years he has made entertaining films (The rock remains the peak of his career) but the former music video director may have to reinvent himself to regain relevance, and Ambulance is not a good starting point.
Ambulance (USA, 2022)