Big explosions, car chases and bank heists make a return to screen in Michael Bay’s latest action thriller Ambulance – the pinnacle of his fast cut, highly stylized, patriotic-infused filmmaking style.
Due to the chasing tastes of filmgoers, robbing banks and holding hostages in high thrill situations are few and far between nowadays, and Ambulance leans into the entertainment factor of these past films with no holds barred.
As a remake of the 2005 Danish film, Ambulance is the story of Will (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II), a war veteran pushed to the edge to somehow get money for his wife’s surgery that neither his pension nor health insurance can cover. He contacts his brother Danny (Jake Gyllenhaal), a loose cannon thief who is his opposite in many ways, yet whose love for his brother is unconditional. The mismatched duo’s chemistry is the centre of the film that drives the action forward and, pleasantly, the tension and love between the characters feels real.
After robbing the bank, they end up stealing an ambulance with EMT Cam (Eiza Gonzalez) and wounded officer Zach (Jackson White) inside, effectively holding them hostage, as they try to outrun the police across Los Angeles – feeling very reminiscent of Speed. The tension is intense, and the ongoing need to keep the Zach alive to prevent further potential ramifications for Will and Danny should they be caught is a solid inclusion.
As expected, the stakes get higher and higher, with the involvement of gangs, bazookas, and explosions that is truly wild, but Bay takes too long to get to these invigorating moments, despite teasing them throughout. By the time these hyped moments, arrived, it’s 3/4 of the way through the film.
Also spliced between the moving and shaky camera shot is the potential for the film to make a deeper point about what pushes average people to rob to get life-threatening surgery or the tensions between war veterans, paramedics, FBI and police, but instead Bay simply goes mad with action.
The commitment to the performance is a highlight here. Gyllenhaal is excellent as the unhinged Danny, whose loud and crazed energy is the perfect juxtaposition to Mateen’s nuanced Will, who is grounded and comforting to those around him. But Gonzalez is the star of the show, learning well into the emotional parts of the story and having the most satisfying arc of all the characters, playing fear, anger, sadness and joy well despite the limitations of the script.
It’s hard to judge the film independently without acknowledging Bay’s own style and history. His over the top patriotism is still present here with constant views of the police logo and “to protect and to serve” quotes appearing on the screen, yet he has pulled back on the female objectification that marred his earlier years.
More or less this is a Michael Bay film. His loud explosions and action are more present than ever, and his drone shots are too common to feel impactful. Implausible events and laughable moments are too frequent and undermine the story, but again, come part and parcel with his films.
It’s a wild ride from beginning to end that features strong performances from its stars and a throwback to the old style action films of the 80s and 90s. You won’t leave feeling unsatisfied that Bay has delivered on these promises.