Whenever a new trailer drops, there will be clues about who is directing the said film. Each director has their own style and unique attributes, and to that end, spotting a movie that Michael Bay directs is easy to recognize. Just look for an abundance of explosions, cars flipping on their sides, extreme camera angles, an overuse of Dutch angles, and not to forget, movies that feature either weak character development or a simple plot loaded with holes. Everyone knows Michael Bay is the master of creating chaos in his films, and he could be considered the most extreme second unit director. His latest film, Ambulance, brings everything you’d expect in a Bay film, and it can be best described in three descriptive adjectives: loud, dizzying, and exhausting. That’s not to paint this movie as a bad flick, but it should rightfully start with a disclaimer before the film begins.
The movie takes place in Los Angeles, once dubbed “The Bank Robbery Capital of the World,” where Danny Sharp (Jake Gyllenhaal) is getting prepped for his latest heist. He’s a career criminal who has robbed many banks starting at seventeen and plans never to quit. His father was also a notorious criminal who was ruthless, but Danny is more kind-hearted, vowing not to shoot a cop. Danny’s adoptive brother Will (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) visits him and needs some financial assistance. His wife needs some experimental surgery which medical insurance won’t cover, so Will is desperate for some cash. I find it odd that a procedure such as a knee surgery would cost roughly $200,000, but perhaps I’m not in tune with the pricing of medical procedures. This plot point is used only to trigger Will’s actions and is never mentioned again.
Will is aware of Danny’s criminal actions but has always stayed away and does not wish to be a part of that life. During this meeting, Danny offers Will a choice. Either join him on his latest job or walk away. He reluctantly agrees and is nervous even though Danny reassures him that everything will work out just fine. Besides, he’s been planning this heist for a while, and the payoff is worth the risk. $32 million is more money than anyone can imagine.
Danny has his team load up and heads to the bank near downtown. The rest of the crew are given no development whatsoever, so when they get killed, we hardly remember them. The robbery is discovered by a rookie cop named Zach (Jackson White), who enters the bank to ask a young teller out. He’s been building up the courage to do so, and today is the day that everything will change. The simple robbery turns into a shootout when police units respond to the scene, and a gunfight ensues. Besides the cops being on the scene, members of the S.I.S. (Special Investigation Section) are staking out the bank and have been following Danny’s criminal gang. This unit is led by Captain Monroe (Garret Dillahunt), a quirky guy who brings as much threat to the gang as the police do.
Cops are everywhere, the streets around the bank are surrounded, and after Will accidentally shoots Officer Zach, the situation is even more precarious. After a radio call goes out informing that an officer has been shot, an ambulance arrives on the scene to administer aid and get the officer to the nearest hospital. Now we enter EMT Cam Thompson (Eiza Gonzalez), who takes her job seriously and has a reputation for not being easy to work with. Whenever someone needs help, she is quick on her feet and does her job effectively. After the ambulance arrives and picks up Officer Zach, Danny spots his ticket to freedom and carjacks the driver EMT Scott (Colin Woodell). Will drives the ambulance while Danny makes sure EMT Cam doesn’t try anything rash.
Once the police realize the criminals have stolen the ambulance, the chase is on. What’s fascinating is that this ambulance never gets caught in the infamous L.A. traffic, and yes, they do use their sirens. Plus, that ambulance must get fantastic gas mileage with all the aggressive driving. The LAPD maintains pursuit but is incompetent to create a working roadblock or even attempt to slow down the ambulance to defuse the situation. Officer Zach is in critical condition, and EMT Cam does everything she can to save him. Will any of them survive? This movie takes this simple idea and makes it more and more complicated.
I was entertained and somewhat bored by the movie most of the time. Sure, the budget is significantly smaller than typical Michael Bay budgets, but I was surprised that the gunfights and explosions weren’t as headache-inducing as those Transformers sequels. What impressed me is the decent amount of character development of Danny and Will, which is saying a lot for a Michael Bay flick. The movie is about their experiences and differences between each other. Will wants to help his wife, while Danny is committed to securing the money he has left. I will grant both Gyllenhaal and Abdul-Mateen II in their performances. Still, admittingly, they can be considered over-the-top in Gyllenhaal’s case and unconvincing in Abdul-Mateen II.
Director Michael Bay does his usual stuff with extreme camera angles, including some genuinely dizzying drone shots and the occasional over-editing at times. I will say that this is perhaps one of his best movies in well over a decade. Still, we can admit that he isn’t the greatest, and considering that this movie is way too much than it ought to be, I can safely say that this is nothing more than two hours of mindless entertainment that you’ll forget about in mere days.
Score 3 out of 5
Ambulance is ear-ringing, overlong, and will leave you feeling eager for a burst of energy when it’s over. It’s an exhausting film, which is typical for a Bay movie, but this is what audiences and fans of him expect. The plot is bloated and not as focused as it should be, and I’ll guarantee that any director could do a better job. Still, for fans of Michael Bay (myself included), we can’t help but gleefully smile at the movie while admitting that this is just plain stupid.
Ambulance feels like a movie that Bay would direct, and it’s nice to see a film of his not bombarded with CGI or the unnecessary use of the sexualizing of women. It’s a more mature film of his if that’s what you want to call it and still feels juvenile at the same time. Basically, if you like mindless action presented in a colorful and utterly stupid way, you’ll get a kick out of this. If you are not a fan of Michael Bay, you’ll be eager for the film to end. Hey, consider that your disclaimer!