Ambulance is a movie by Michael Bay that revives old-fashioned action movies.
people During the middle of Michael Bay’s Ambulance, someone asks, “Do people still break into banks?” Her question should have been, “Does anyone still make movies about people robbing banks?.” The question is, “Does anyone still make movies like this about people robbing banks?” It’s a rare self-aware moment in a movie that isn’t very self-aware. It’s an action movie that could have come out of the mid-’90s, but it isn’t being clever about it.
Ambulance is a type of action movie that has been pushed out of theatres over the last few decades by movies that are based on fantasy and digital games. There are car crashes, gun fights, stunts, and sweaty acting in this one-shot idea. The director is a deranged ringmaster who will do anything to get the shot he wants. A lot of people think it’s silly, exciting, unruly, and refreshing. It has a 136-minute run time.
Isn’t it weird that this shock to the system for old-school action movies comes from Bay, who has been a bad guy for film critics and movie fans for a long time? When he directed action movies, he used a lot of fast cutting and camerawork to make them hard to read. This is the director who made five Transformers movies that got worse and worse. They are the worst of Hollywood’s intellectual property strip-mine. In the past, he had only gotten one “fresh” rating on Rotten Tomatoes, for his 1996 prison movie The Rock. This is the first time that has happened. Funny kind of hero.
Ambulance isn’t a big change for Bay, but it is small by his standards. It has a $40 million budget and takes place on the streets of Los Angeles. Ambulance is based on the 2005 Danish film Ambulancen. It tells the story of two adopted brothers, Danny and Will Sharp (Jake Gyllenhaal and Yahya Abdul-Mateen II). Danny is a bank robber, following in the footsteps of their infamous father. Will is a war veteran who has left the criminal world behind, and he doesn’t want to be like him. Will’s wife, Amy (Moses Ingram), needs a lot of money for surgery that insurance won’t pay for. In a desperate move, Will asks Danny for help, and Danny draws him into a big deal: an armed raid on a federal bank. Young cop Zach (Jackson White) is shot during the heist. Will and Danny are looking for a way out when they hijack the ambulance that is carrying the injured cop and the paramedic (Eiza González) who is taking care of him. This gives the brothers a level of safety, but it also makes things more difficult for them, especially when the LAPD is pursuing them.
It’s a good idea because it sets up both the outside action of the chase and the drama inside the ambulance. Bay, on the other hand, isn’t afraid to play off and echo two of the most popular LA thrillers of the ’90s, Heat and Speed. He borrows a lot from the images in both films. It’s very hot and very loud in the downtown firefight outside the bank. There are a lot of aerial and zoomed-in shots of police cruisers and helicopters trying to keep an eye on a municipal vehicle that is being chased around the freeway system. No, Bay doesn’t do that. He has to.
This is the best thing about Ambulance: how quickly it builds tension. They set up the story and main characters with speed and efficiency so that we can get to the action as quickly as possible. The pace and pressure keep going up from there, too. The film’s structure has a built-in momentum that Bay boosts with his relentless filmmaking energy. The middle third of the movie, when the first stage of the chase and the tensions inside the ambulance come to a head, is truly breath-taking. But it’s just not possible to keep the movie going for so long. At the end, the movie loses a lot of its excitement because of some overdeveloped plot mechanics that make the ambulance stop and start again more than once. Bay and screenwriter Chris Fedak didn’t learn Speed’s lesson: never, ever stop rolling. They didn’t learn it from Speed.
It’s not clear what actors as good as Gyllenhaal and Abdul-Mateen are doing in this movie. As a result, Bay, who has an overbearing style and an itchy trigger finger in the editing room, doesn’t see actors as anything more than moving parts in the frame. He isn’t likely to give them a lot of space to do their job. Abdul-Mateen, an actor who has a lot of physical and emotional weight, looks a little lost and stoic, like he’s having a hard time keeping up with the film’s crazy energy. He has good chemistry with González, though. Gyllenhaal, who has no inhibitions and a taste for pulpy intensity, is able to find the film’s level with ease. To Danny’s credit, he stays an unpredictable and morally ambiguous character, as well as an amusingly unhinged one, for longer than the film’s simple structure should have let him.
But the real star of Ambulance is Michael Bay, who, even in a movie like this that isn’t very far-fetched, attacks every scene with his urgent, over-the-top style. Many people don’t like that style, which is called “Bayhem,” and it’s been explained in a great Every Frame a Painting video essay. It’s known for its constant camera movement, disorienting, quick cuts, and lack of depth. It should not be thought of as incompetence or incoherence, though: It’s a deliberate stylistic choice that was done with great skill.
In Ambulance, there’s no denying that it’s a whirlwind of footage that’s even more impressive because it’s all done in front of the camera. Lorne Balfe’s pounding score makes the shots look like they’re going to fall off the wall. Cameras on drones fall down the sides of buildings, speed through a maze of pillars at high speed, and glide under cars that are jumping out of the way. Bay gives only a few seconds to shots that other filmmakers would hold on to with pride. Then he lines up five more. The excess is sinful, the story isn’t clear, and the effect is too strong (especially in a theater). A part of it made me laugh, but also made me feel happy.
She does not have to do anything. That’s why Ambulance eventually runs out of steam because it’s been overindulging. There are a lot of people in this thriller, even though it should be a short and simple story. Garret Dillahunt, an LAPD officer who looks like he’s having a good time, is the leader of the team. A gangster cartel and radio-controlled minigun are two of the ridiculous things in this movie. There is also a scene where an anaesthetic is made out of a mobile phone, hair clip and face-punch. When Bay brings Bayhem back to life, it’s a thrill and a little bit of a treat to watch. It’s easier for him to show off his technical skills when he’s outside. His proud tastelessness starts to look like a kind of retro cool, too.