“Ambulance,” 2022, directed by Michael Bay — 3/5 stars
Michael Bay is nothing if not stylistically consistent. It would be dishonest to say Bay movies are “good,” but he has managed to consistently entertain audiences, both domestically and internationally, for well over two decades. After kicking his blockbuster career off with “The Rock” in 1996, and later helming five separate “Transformers” movies, Bay has fallen into a strange mid-life crisis stage of his career. The hugely influential franchises he was once known for, the aforementioned “Transformers” films and the macho cop “Bad Boys” films that left a sizable dent on the late ’90s and early 2000s, have largely fallen out of favor with the general public, becoming synonymous with excessive, pointless pyrotechnics and thinly strung plots. This reputation that Bay’s filmmaking has accumulated is not unearned; he has always prioritized spectacle and aesthetics over nuance and finesse. Now, in 2022, we arrive at “Ambulance,” a new breed of Bay film that aims not for the international box office charts but for a very specific brand of moviegoer, one who cares exclusively about explosive car stunts and intense gunfights, even at the cost of narrative cohesion and a competent script. “Ambulance” isn’t necessarily memorable, but it’s a perfectly acceptable way to kill two hours and have a great time doing it.
The film stars Yahya Abdul-Mateen II as Will Sharp, a military veteran desperate for money to fund an experimental, potentially life-saving surgery for his wife. Opposite Abdul-Mateen is Jake Gyllenhaal as Danny Sharp, Will’s adoptive brother and professional bank robber who offers Will a job to assist him with a major robbery happening the very same day. After some convincing, Will agrees, and when things go south, the two are forced to hijack an ambulance, holding the headstrong EMT (Eiza Gonzalez) and wounded police officer (Jackson White) inside hostage. The movie gets straight to the point, and the vast majority of its two hours are dedicated to the ambulance chase across Los Angeles.
A major selling point for the film was Bay’s use of First-Person View (FPV) drones. Professional drone racers were recruited to capture impossibly fast and acrobatic camera angles, zooming through structures, twisting and turning high above the action. While the use of this drone footage is striking when it does appear, many of the shots are frustratingly cut short, and much of the film’s more confined action sequences are held back by disorienting and choppy editing and an overdose on shaky handheld cinematography. It often feels as though the innovative idea to use FPV drones is better suited in the hands of a more competent director; it’s easy to see how well filmmakers like Justin Lin or Christopher Nolan could utilize the technology for impactful, thrilling action sequences, but instead Bay’s juvenile sensibilities and short attention span hold him back from using it to its full potential.
The film’s script is almost incoherent despite its comedically simple premise, making for some unintentionally hilarious moments that don’t detract from the experience if viewers can roll with the punches. Some of the character work is blatantly unsubtle, and the audience is more often told, not shown, about the characters’ traits and motivations. The humor throughout is often dated and tonally muddled, so much so that it wraps back around to being funny again. Abdul-Mateen, Gyllenhaal and Gonzalez are all talented actors, but their lines are so difficult to deliver realistically that even the dramatic moments come off as silly. Gyllenhaal especially is made out to be a complete buffoon, despite an impressive track record.
Knowing his audience was more limited this time around, Bay also made the controversial choice to make “Ambulance” excessively gruesome and violent. This isn’t the sanitized robot fighting that’s been seen in “Transformers,” or even the over-the-top R-rated battles in the likes of “Kingsman” and “John Wick,” but rather a more realistic brutality that almost feels out of place in Ambulance’s bombastic and surreal world. In one scene in particular, a man’s lower body is run over with a large truck, and upon seeing his mangled legs, he casually asks “Hey, what’d you do to my legs?” The bizarre humor somehow balances out the disturbingly real-feeling violence, and together these two elements help keep the story engaging and exciting, even when the combination is especially strange.
For all of its flaws, “Ambulance” makes for an exceptionally fun experience through its sheer confidence and audacity of its execution. Michael Bay’s style is boyish and flashy and sometimes outright garish, but somehow always manages to be fun, even if it’s breaking every rule in the book. “Ambulance” is in theaters right now.