Michael Bay is a lot of things, but subtle has never been one of them. When he’s back he wants you to know it, and if that takes a primal scream then so be it.
While it might have been quite some time since we got something that felt of a piece with Bay’s entire career (I almost typed “mindset,” but digging into the psyche of Michael Bay would require hundreds of pages and there’s already a duo of Patrick Willems videos for that), Ambulance feels fresh and new for the director and he’s brought forward a lot of insane technology to help create this sprawling thrillride. Start to finish, it’s a flawed but breathtaking return to form from Bay in a world that forgot he can make movies without Transformers.
He’s got a lot of help from Jake Gyllenhaal, here portraying an effortlessly charming criminal named Danny that always behaves as though he just snorted a small mountain of cocaine. Danny’s helping out his brother, former marine Will Sharp (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II), by bringing him along for a $32m bank heist. Will’s wife, Amy (Moses Ingram in a thankless role that is very much beneath her), is sick with [insert medical condition here] and needs an experimental treatment involving [insert experimental treatment here] that insurance won’t cover. During the heist a himbo cop named Zach (Jackson White) stops by to ask out a bank teller. He’s held hostage by Danny and Will as the rest of their team is killed. Will accidentally shoots Zach, forcing the brothers to abandon him, only to later hijack his ambulance. As they fly through the streets of LA (Will was formerly a driver of some sort in Kabul, apparently lending him the skills to drive a bulky ambulance like a formula one racecar), EMT Cam (Eiza González as the MVP of the movie) will try to keep the cop alive as the brothers make a desperate attempt to escape.
This is all ridiculously coincidental, silly, and kind of stupid. That’s not what you need to be worrying about, as the plot doesn’t really have to make sense. This is a Michael Bay movie, so there are explosions aplenty and everyone is hot, sweaty, and performing at a ten when any other film would have them around a seven. I mentioned that Gyllenhaal plays the whole thing as though on coke, but Yahya Abdul-Mateen II is giving us that “good guy in a tough situation” energy that I love from Bay. The performer sort of burst out of the gate last year, with Candyman and The Matrix Resurrections (he has also turned in wonderful performances in Us and The Trial of the Chicago Seven), but here he’s allowed to really make a meal of his role. Nothing subtle, nothing safe, but lots of shouting and even a high-speed surgical scene to really get into. González plays her role so stoic that you might actually think she has no emotions, but even that breaks down as the character progresses in the big, broad strokes I want from this kind of movie.
The film contains a good amount of Bay’s weirdness (though thankfully not much of his disturbing horny humor), cropping up in the form of military and police glorification once again. Will’s actions are justified because of his military background, while the officers chasing him are competent and perfect to the point where it becomes ridiculous. This, thankfully, plays well with the pacing of what might otherwise feel like an overlong slog. Quips are exchanged, everyone is driven by purpose and righteousness, and the entire mess still comes out of the oven as a meal everyone is going to enjoy.
Composer Lorne Balfe, a Zimmer acolyte, has come out to score this one. He’s worked with Bay before, but the less said about those films the better. It seems like everyone involved in making this movie was riding the white rails, and Balfe’s score is no exception. This thing is a hip-hop diss track mashed together with video game energy to produce the high-octane, unholy beast that will consume us all. It’s a wild series of pieces that matches the level the movie is at from start to finish, and is going to be a banger of a workout jam for those that are both film bros and gym bros.
I’m not going to say Ambulance is brilliant (even if the drone work in the action scenes is mindblowing). I’m not going to say it’s even a good movie. It’s the kind of movie where every character, no matter how small the role, is introduced as though they are the star of the film. It’s the kind of movie that asks you not to worry about how the ambulance teleports all over LA because you’re having too much fun to care. It’s the kind of insanity I want from Bay, and he’s back with a vengeance this time. I can’t say it’ll be something you’ll love or hate, but it’s a blast from start to finish.
Ambulance is playing exclusively in theatres.