A film review by Craig J. Koban April 19, 2022

AMBULANCE j
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2022, R, 136 mins.

Jake Gyllenhaal as Danny Sharp  /  Yahya Abdul-Mateen II as Will Sharp  /  Eiza González as Cam Thompson  /  Garret Dillahunt as Captain Monroe  /  Keir O'Donnell as FBI Agent Anson Clark  /  Cedric Sanders as Officer Mark  /  Jackson White as Officer Zach

Directed by Michael Bay  /  Written by Chris Fedak

I thought that I was going to need an ambulance after seeing AMBULANCE.   

No hyperbole here, folks.  This latest Michael Bay-hem directed action thriller literally made me sick while watching it.  

This is one of the most schizophrenically  directed and edited films that I've ever seen.  Every tool in Bay's tickle trunk of aesthetic horrors are utilized throughout, and in the process I would make an easy claim that there are very few shots contained within that last longer than 3-4 seconds.  Some have described AMBULANCE as a "return to form" for Bay.  Huh?  I found his incessant brand of attention deficit disorder filmmaking here to be pretty on brand...if not on steroids throughout the film's punishingly long 136 minutes.  This is just as insufferably unwatchable as any of the worst entries in Bay's catalogue, with its only redeeming quality being some of the actors giving it their all with material that's well beneath their esteemed skills. 

I like AMBULANCE's core premise, though, which could have worked astoundingly well with just the right director at the helm: A bank robbery gone horribly wrong leads to the crooks commandeering an ambulance, leading to a massive extended car chase with police authorities through the dense and populated streets of L.A..  All I could think of as I left my screening of AMBULANCE was the limitless possibilities here if a top tier Michael Mann or a George Miller were allowed to quarterback the proceedings.  Well, Bay is no Mann or Miller, to be sure, and instead of embracing all of the thrilling elements this premise offers up, he pummels the film with the most visually disorienting (and nauseating) cinematography (which appears to be the provided throughout with drone cameras...more on that soon) that wallows in sinful self-indulgent excess.  It's almost as if Bay had no faith in this material (based on a 2005 Danish film) or the strong performance ensemble that he brought together.  The script and actors are just mere props here that are being swallowed up whole by Bay's fetishistic glee for undisciplined chaos.  AMBULANCE is most assuredly all sound and fury signifying very little. 

And in holy crap, what's he doing in a Bay film?! fashion, Jake Gyllenhaal plays Danny, a career criminal and master bank robber that's about to embark on the mother of all scores that will allow him to finally retire to a quiet life (granted, like many Bay protagonists, Danny spends an awful lot of time manically screaming at the top of his lungs in the film, which leads to one wondering how quiet of a retirement he would actually have...but I digress).  The plan is to steal a cool $32 million from a well fortified and guarded L.A. bank in broad daylight.  Concurrent to this is the state of his estranged brother, Will (a quite good Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, who just recently played a young Morpheus in THE MATRIX RESURRECTIONS), an unemployed, debt riddled, and hopelessly downtrodden military vet that's having a difficult time making ends meet and securing insurance funding for the experimental surgery desperately needed for his sick wife.  Realizing that's he has nowhere near the cash to afford such a procedure, Will hooks back up with Danny in hopes of getting a much needed handout from him.  Danny offers him something more lucrative, like a large piece of the $32 million pie that he's about to take...but only if Will serves as his getaway driver.  With no other options in sight, Will begrudgingly agrees.   

 

 

Initially, the daylight robbery seems to be running smoothly, that is until kind hearted, but nosey L.A.P.D. officer Zach (Jackson White) shows up at the bank.  He's not there because he senses something is afoul; he's actually smitten with one of the bank tellers and wants to ask her out for a date.  When Danny lets him inside it becomes clear to this rookie cop that the bank is being held up, and all proverbial hell breaks loose, leading to extended exchanges of gunfire with Danny, Will, and his team versus the L.A.P.D., which culminates with Danny and Will barely escaping, but not before the former shoots and mortally wounds that horny cop (yeah, as Martin Lawrence might say in BAD BOYS, shit just got real).  Scouting a nearby ambulance, Barry and Will take control of it at gunpoint and force the EMT on duty, Cam (Eiza Gonzalez), to work on the dying officer to ensure that he doesn't die (and lead to cop killer chargers being levied), and all while trying to flee from L.A.'s finest - overseen by police Captain Monroe (Garret Dillahunt) and FBI agent Clark (Keir O' Donnell) - in a cat and mouse game of high speed pursuit.   

Let's cut to the chase (no pun intended) and talk about Bay's filmmaking methods here, which wholeheartedly lack subtlety and nuance.  It's beyond clear very early on that Bay and cinematographer Roberto De Angelis have discovered drones and all of the dizzying extremes that using drone photography can yield to this production.  Initially, some of the early shots - which zoom, zip, dive up and down skyscrapers and through areas altogether impossible with conventional camera rigs - are kind of nifty, but Bay uses them over...and over...and over again to the point where it induces headaches and numbing fatigue.  Sometimes, there's no rhyme or reason for where the camera shots begin or end, and beyond that the cutting together of said shots with the other footage is so breakneck and hyperactive that making geographical sense of the particulars of the film's extended chase sequence is all but impossible.  Everything in AMBULANCE is so aggressively adrenalized.  Hell, even quiet and would-be introspective moments between characters simply talking to one another involves Bay's in-your-face theatrics of his camera inexplicably careening and swooping in and out and around the actors.  It becomes hard for the characters and actors to shine here because Bay simply doesn't allow them to command the screen for longer than a few seconds at a time.  The filmmaker's worst creative sins are on full display in AMBULANCE, and it's clear that he favors eye fatiguing overkill over generating real palpable tension out of his film's unique closed quartered concept. 

Not complimenting things is the paper thin scripting, which often dabbles in the absurd when it isn't flipping the bird to basic logic.  AMBULANCE features, for my money, some of the dumbest career crooks ever to grace the screen.  Just consider Danny's plan to perpetrate what he describes as the largest bank heist in California's history.  Are we truly expected to believe that a "master criminal" like Danny that has poured his life savings and months upon months of meticulous prep into this score would not have any type of contingency plan whatsoever if the robbery failed?  Does he not have multiple escape plans/routes?  Also, why would he just hire a new getaway driver like Will on the spot and the day of the robbery?  Danny is established as someone that has robbed banks since he was a teenager and learned his trade from his legendary thieving father, but his latest score goes off the rails because he allows a cop into the bank that...well...just wanted to score with a cute teller.  Would the criminals of Michael Mann's HEAT have ever allowed for this to happen?  As the film progresses Danny and his accomplice in Will emerge as beyond hapless and are just improvising as they go.  This strains credulity to the max.  And speaking of maximizing things, Gyllenhaal's portrayal of this "mastermind" is so unhealthily unhinged, histrionic, and overbearing that it's almost as if he snorted a Tony Montana sized pile of cocaine before each take.  I've always maintained that he's is one of the best actors to have never won an Oscar, but he's unconvincingly over the top in AMBULANCE (BTW, if you want to see him in much better form in a remake of a Danish thriller, seek out last year's terribly overlooked THE GUILTY). 

And on the subject of over the top, just consider the film's other laundry list of head shakingly implausible scenarios.  In one grotesque sequence, Gonzalez's beleaguered EMT is forced to work with Will to perform an impromptu operation on the dying cop's soon-to-be-ruptured spleen while in the ambulance that's bobbing and weaving violently through traffic (they do this via video call with actual surgeons...sure...okay...you betcha).  Later in the film the cop that had his stomach opened up and multiple hands plunged into it wakes up and appears no worse for wear and acts like he just had a casual nap (uh...yeah...right).  There's another wickedly stupid moment when the police captain momentarily calls off the chase because his chronically fluctuating dog is discovered to be in the lead pursuit car (oh, you gotta be kiddin' me).  Later on, there's a sequence involving a muscle car with a mannequin and an attached Gatling gun (just...don't...ask).  I don't have a problem with rampant silliness in movies.  SPEED - which this film also tries to lazily pilfer from - definitely had its share of laughably impossible moments, but that film winked at its audiences and let them in on the gags, whereas Bay just shows nihilistic contempt for his viewers and simply doesn't care. 

Why oh why is AMBULANCE nearly two and a hours long?  The original Danish effort was much more mercifully short at 80 minutes.  There's so much annoying filler on display here that could have been excised out completely, like multiple conversations featuring characters engaging in meta conversations about THE ROCK and BAD BOYS (wow...how clever...Bay's films exist within Bay's film!!!) or another weirdly unnecessary moment when Danny and Will engage in a sing alone to Christopher's Cross' "Sailing" that's playing on the radio while the entire city's police force are about to nab them.  I'll pay two compliments to AMBULANCE in closing: (1) Outside of Gyllenhaal's embarrassing turn, the film has some decently grounded performances by Mateen II as his everyman in over his head and Gonzales' feisty and empowered EMT member that's a lot more tough as nails than most of Bay's previous female window dressing protagonists; (2) For a film that cost just $40 million (which might have covered the catering bill on the last several Bay led TRANSFORMERS films), AMBULANCE looks like it cost three times more (Bay, if anything, deserves some credit for making this relatively cheap film look expensive). Beyond that, AMBULANCE is Bay in pure masturbatory overkill.  

Oh, and make sure you bring some Tylenol to your screening.  You're going to need it.  

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