Remember Michael Bay? The king of blowing stuff up and the mind behind the “Transformers” franchise? After a four year hiatus, the man returns with “Ambulance”. A relatively smaller film compared to the big budget blockbusters we’ve come to know him for. Over the years, Bay’s films have become something of a running joke within the world of cinema. Full of spectacle and style masking over the cacophony of paper-thin characters screaming and the overblown audio of gunshots. That being said, the man is no stranger to crime thrillers with films like “Bad Boys II” and “Pain & Gain”.
If you’re a fan of Bay’s signature, bombastic style of filmmaking, then “Ambulance” probably isn’t a tough sell. For those on the fence, though, you may be wondering: Is “Ambulance” worth a trip to the cinema? Let’s find out.
The plot of “Ambulance” is fairly straight-forward. It follows two brothers, Danny and Will Sharp, who grew up on the wrong side of Los Angeles. Danny is a smooth-talking, deadly criminal and Will is an ex-marine trying to provide for his family. Will soon finds himself getting wrap up in a bank robbery gone wrong with Danny. In a last-ditch effort to save their hides, they hijack an ambulance. Unfortunately for EMT Cam Thompson, she and an injured cop are on the ride. Madness ensues as they tear through the streets of LA with law enforcement on their tail.
It’s not a terrible premise but what’s odd here is the way Bay and writer Chris Fedak tries to play it straight throughout. For the most part, the film is fairly self-serious which often serves to its detriment. Bay seems to be banking on the audience emotionally resonating with our criminal duo. We’d like to but so much of their backstory and motivations are so cliche and poorly developed, it borders on cartoonish.
It’s clear that Bay wants us to care about the ex-marine because he’s a family man and has served his country. Gyllenhaal’s Danny is played to be this unhinged yet sympathetic villain who leads his brother further down a rabbit hole of violence and crime. Here’s the thing though, it would have been much more effective to have simply have our protagonists unfold within the plot than to have these half-hearted flashbacks to remind us of their bond. We get it, they’re brothers!
The worst part is that the film can’t even commit to its gritty, crime tone. There are these random scenes and bits of dialogue that are meant to be played for comedic relief. None of them really land though because in a film that’s supposed to operating at breakneck speed, all it does is interrupt the film’s pace for the sake of levity. An issue that often plagued Bay’s other films.
Right but you didn’t come into “Ambulance” expecting a cerebral contemplation on human nature. No, you came to see insane gunfights and car chases! In that regard, “Ambulance” does deliver the high-octane thrills when it calls for it. There are some physic-defying scenes that will leave you roaring and hooting with glee. The film is at its very best when it manages to balance its gripping medical, moral drama within the ambulance, the tension of a hostage situation and the frantic manhunt going outside. Near the end of the film, the criminal duo turns the entire city into a warzone with elaborate booby traps and gattling gun muscle cars to boot. It certainly gives the antics of the “Fast & Furious” franchise a run for its money.
For the first half of the film, you’re thoroughly engaged with Bay’s roller coaster ride. That being said, the destruction and chaos then begins to take a toll as you witness the same sweeping drone shots and revolving camera pans over and over…and over again. At some point, it becomes downright nauseating. The cinematography in the film can go from tense and focused to jarring in a moment’s notice, putting us on the edge of our seats in the worst way possible. There are also these bizzare facial close-ups when characters are screaming at one another. Compounded with the free-camera bobs, it constantly breaks immersion with how distracting these shots are.
Actor Jake Gyllenhaal does his level best to elevate the material given to him, trying to recreate the same hair-trigger intensity he brought to Netflix’s “The Guilty”. The task proves impossible seeing his character, Danny only ever oscillates between extremely stressed and needlessly quippy. Much like the film’s tone and cinematography, his characterization is wildly inconsistent. Yahya Abdul-Mateen II does a competent enough job as the everyman Will but there’s nothing particularly interesting or unique about his character either. It’s almost as if his entire likeability as a character hinges on his service to his country.
If you’ve watched enough of Michael Bay’s films, you’ll begin to notice there’s a running theme of the director lionizing law enforcement and military personel. Whether you’re a fan of this or not, you have to admit that it doesn’t make for the most compelling characters. Some might call it patriotism, we call it lazy writing. Eiza González’s EMT Cam Thompson was by far the most human character of the lot. Watching her portrayal of a medic trying to leverage her position as their only means of escape and her duty to save human lives gives the film some much needed dramatic weight. In spite of the film’s talented cast of actors, the film does everything in its power to make them some of the most forgettable characters ever put to action cinema.
The thrill of Michael Bay’s “Ambulance” is one that will not outlast its meandering and bloated runtime. Plagued by truly bizzare creative choices and uninspired writing, the film’s occasionally bold action set-pieces cannot quite lift it beyond the confines of mediocrity. Even with a strong cast of actors, the film’s paper-thin characters can never grow past their rigid archetypes. Expect loud noises and big explosions and you will leave one happy camper. Expect anything else and you will be sorely disappointed.
You can now check out “Ambulance” in theaters!
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The thrill of Michael Bay's "Ambulance" is one that will not outlast its meandering and bloated runtime. Plagued by truly bizzare creative choices and uninspired writing, the film's occasionally bold action set-pieces cannot quite lift it beyond the confines of mediocrity. Even with a strong cast of actors, the film's paper-thin characters can never grow past their rigid archetypes. Expect loud noises and big explosions and you will leave one happy camper. Expect anything else and you will be sorely disappointed.
- "Ambulance" Review