Based on a 2005 Danish film, Michael Bay returns to his roots in a visceral, quick-witted, and lightening-paced action-thriller, Ambulance.
As depicted in the film’s marketing, Ambulance is set in Los Angeles and sees two adoptive brothers, Danny (Jake Gyllenhaal) and Will (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II), take on a heist and a wild chase throughout L.A. The particulars of the theft aren’t exactly new, and we’ve probably seen better heist enactments in other L.A. set films such as Michael Mann’s Heat or Kathryn Bigelow’s Point Break. What sells this heist is the fluidity of character and action camera movement. Bay turns on the heat, quickly establishing the pacing to come as the LAPD and the FBI give chase.
The kicker of Chris Fedak’s adapted screenplay is how the two brothers use an ambulance as a getaway vehicle. Before the heist, we’re introduced to Eiza González’s EMT, Cam Thompson, who is as cool as ice, almost at the point of being dispassionate. Fedak and Bay present situations throughout the story that show Cam’s limitations while pushing her determination ahead, and González is amazing to watch.
Fedak establishes Danny and Will’s relationship; critical details of their individual and collective pasts are brought together excitingly. Will, a veteran, is trying to help his wife get funds for an operation she needs and isn’t covered by insurance. This aspect is perhaps a bit cliched, but it does play into the third act, demonstrates his character as an individual, and is an important reminder of life for everyday citizens in this country. Danny is the huckster of the film, goading Will into joining him on the heist. Gyllenhaal relishes the role and plays into it every second he’s on screen.
I went into the film knowing nothing about it, which helped prepare me for the unexpected in the film. This advantage gave me thrills and chills that I haven’t gotten from a Bay film since The Rock. Admittedly, that’s a cliché as well. However, it is generally accepted that The Rock is the pinnacle of his career. Ambulance is an exciting return to form for Bay, for better and worse.
The character development aside, Fedak parodies Bay’s other films in a good way. The humor throughout the film is good-natured, which is a surprise given the viscerality of what we ultimately experience. It eases us into what’s to come.
The film’s strengths and weakness are in the cinematography done by first time Director of Photography Roberto De Angelis, whose been a camera operator or focus puller on other action films such as The Core, Baby Driver, 6 Underground, and Mann’s Tokyo Vice now on HBO Max. The Steadicam work is flawless and fluid. It’s the use of drone footage that doesn’t work. It doesn’t add to the excitement necessarily or add context, though I understood what they were going for, and because the technology is where it is today, they can use it. Concessionaires might consider a supply of Dramamine for this film.
Pietro Scalia’s editing is on point; quick-paced action and even-keeled drama effectively balance the character dynamics with the action. However, the film has too many unimportant sub-story threads that drag the third act out.
Still, the Bayhem is on full display in Ambulance, and despite the film’s quirks, it is a good escape film without relying heavily on CGI. If you’re not prone to motion sickness or have Dramamine on hand, and blood, guts, family politics, and a car chase through the alleyways of downtown L.A. and around its freeways isn’t enough to put you off, Ambulance is for you.
Directed by Michael Bay
Screenplay by Chris Fedak, based on the original story and screenplay for the 2005 Danish film Ambulancen by Laurits Munch-Petersen and Lars Andreas Pedersen
Starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Eiza González
R, 136 mins, Universal/New Republic Pictures