Directed by Michael Bay
Written by chris fedak
starring Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Jake Gyllenhaal and Eiza Gonzalez
Classification R; 136 minutes
open in theaters April 8
In his most recent movie, 2019′s under-loved Netflix production 6 Undergrounddirector/disaster artist/Hollywood Satan Michael Bay kicked things off with an exhilarating, deliciously vulgar 20-minute car chase through Florence. In ambulanceBay’s new movie that marks his welcome return to the big screen, the filmmaker does himself six times better: The entire 136-minute action extravaganza is basically one extended LA chase scene, only hitting the brakes to take two brief on-the-ground breathers – a tense bank heist and a chaotic warehouse shootout – that are about as restful as a punch to the head during open-heart surgery (which is something that also happens during the movie).
If contemporary action cinema has left you bored, restless or exhausted – hello, Marvel Cinematic Universe and whatever non-Bay product Netflix is pushing this week – then ambulance is here to remind you of the head-spinning delights of watching a genuine cinematic madman at work. This is eye-popping, ear-splitting, guffaw-inducing stuff that makes Red Notice look like the dumpster juice it truly is.
A slick remix of Speed and Heat (with more than a few direct name-checks of Bay’s own filmography), ambulance follows two brothers, the do-gooder ex-Marine Will (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) and the erratic thief Danny (Jake Gyllenhaal). In need of cash for his wife’s experimental cancer surgery, Will approaches Danny requesting a loan. Danny counters with a high-reward bank job that starts … like, right now. This early abandoning of genre conventions – usually in these type of set-ups there is a buildup to the robbery, with the characters going over the plan, the stakes, the contingencies – is the first whip-quick cue that Bay’s film isn’t going to take a millisecond to rest. From that moment, it’s all go-go-go-gotta-keep-going-don’t-stop.
Naturally, Will and Danny’s robbery goes bad – like, Michael Mann-level bad. With the cops circling, the brothers hijack an ambulance, which is manned by jaded paramedic Cam (Eiza Gonzales) and carrying the seriously wounded cop (Jackson White) who the siblings sorta-accidentally shot earlier. So begins a city-wide chase that ropes in typical Bay-movie functionaries (the eccentric tactical expert played by Garret Dillahunt, the level-headed FBI agent played by Keir O’Donnell) plus a few head-slapping surprises, including the best use of Christopher Cross’s Sailing ever committed to film.
A remake of the 2005 Danish film of the same name (which Bay has proudly never seen), ambulance is, perversely enough, what its director considers a “small” project. On one level, I suppose that’s true: There are no soaring military jets or fighting robot dinosaurs or extinction-level events of planetary destruction. But there is enough twisted-metal destruction and mayhem on display to send even the most insatiable action junkie into a state of blissful cinematic overdose. Reportedly made for just $40-million, the film looks like it cost approximately $100-million more – plus many dead stuntmen bodies and a forever-destroyed LA (a city that Bay interestingly renders as a wasteland of rust, trash and homeless encampments).
I realize at this point in my review that I sound rather out of my mind, or perhaps on Bay’s payroll (tempting, if only for the chance to cozy up to Optimus Prime). But ambulance is a genuinely wicked rush of a thing. For those craving an thickening big-screen spectacle, this is 100-per-cent pure uncut Baycotics.
Certainly, the movie is completely absurd. Every character involved would die within seconds if the action took place in the “real world.” There’s a bit involving Danny’s drug-cartel buddies that turns them into Bond-level supervillains and, for some reason, LA’s notoriously horrible traffic is never an issue. But ambulance‘s world – really, any Bay-verse – does not need to operate by the rules of our reality if it maintains a consistent handle on its own ludicrous tone. And that’s what ambulance does exceedingly well: It is as self-aware as it is destructive. What’s more, Bay ever-so-slightly tones down his usual nihilism – bystanders’ lives seem to actually matter this time – so we’re able to inch ourselves just that bit closer to his characters from him.
Finally: Can someone please just give Gyllenhaal an Oscar already? The actor has been defying expectations for a long while now, and in Bay’s bloody hands he gives a gloriously unhinged performance – all raging charm and venomous sociopath. If Zack Snyder’s Justice League can squeak into the Academy’s pantheon by a social-media campaign, then surely the Internet’s Bay-hive can pull its own ambulance and hijack next year’s telecast. It is a beautiful disaster waiting to happen.
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