It has been five years long since Michael Bay made a theatrical film, which turned out to be a big-budget train wreck otherwise known as Transformers: The Last Knight. After taking a brief detour to join the streaming bandwagon in Netflix’s 6 Underground, it’s nice to see Bay back in the theatrical game.
His latest film, Ambulance reminds me of the old-school action genre of the ’90s that combines heist and chase movies, all cranked up to eleven in the utmost Bayhem style possible. He certainly goes apeshit-crazy here with his camerawork, integrating everything from shaky-cam to low angles and lots and lots of drone shots. Bay’s penchant for shaky-cam echoes the one he already did in Transformers: The Last Knight. I get that he wants to create a sense of dramatic and emotional urgency. But what’s the point if some of the scenes, particularly during the chaotic moments look visually incomprehensible to the point it’s difficult to see what’s going on?
He also seems to be heavily obsessed with drone shots this time around and here, he isn’t just content in limiting it for establishing shots. He even incorporated it for creative and at times, dizzying and over-the-top angles. It sure gives me a mixed feeling, with certain drone shots looking spectacular while others feel like an unnecessary show-off.
And yet, you gotta give him credit for keeping things constantly on the move for a film that runs nearly 2 hours and 20 minutes, even though I would appreciate a leaner pace around 90 to 100 minutes long. Overly self-indulgent camera style aside, Bay still has what it takes to stage some worthwhile action set-pieces. The chase sequence between the ambulance and the police helicopters along the LA River is among the highlights here and so do a scene involving a dummy and a Gatling gun in a moving car. The former immediately evokes William Friedkin’s famous car chase in his otherwise underrated 1985’s To Live and Die in L.A. not only for the LA river scene but also the subsequent wrong-side-of-the-freeway moment.
The story — written by Chris Fedak, marking his first feature-length screenplay after serving as a TV writer for series like Legends of Tomorrow and Prodigal Son — is actually adapted from the 2005 Danish film of the same name. I didn’t get to see the original version so I just have to leave the comparison aside. I initially didn’t expect much from this new Michael Bay film, given his erratic filmography these days.
But I was surprised that at least the overall storyline isn’t just a placeholder to make way for all the Bayhem-style action galore. At the beginning of the film, we learn that decorated army veteran Will Sharp (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) is struggling to get money to pay for his wife’s (Moses Ingram) experimental cancer surgery. The insurance doesn’t cover it either and his only last hope is to get in touch with his adoptive brother, Danny (Jake Gyllenhaal).
From there, Danny offers Will a job to join him as part of his crew to pull off a US$32 million bank heist. It was supposed to be an easy job but as far as a heist movie goes, something will always go wrong. And that happens when a rookie police officer named Zach (Jackson White) walks into the bank on the same day the heist takes place. Naturally, all hell breaks loose as Danny and his crew try to make their getaway, only to be subsequently ambushed by an SIS team led by Captain Monroe (Garrett Dillahunt).
Both Danny and Will manage to escape the bank facility after hijacking an ambulance, where an EMT Cam Thompson (Eiza Gonzalez) and a seriously injured Zach are both held hostages.
I like that the film doesn’t waste time establishing the two leads from the get-go, where Yahya Abdul-Mateen II’s role as the conflicted Will Sharp contrasted well with Jake Gyllenhaal’s high-strung portrayal of a bank robber as Danny. Eiza Gonzalez, who plays the EMT officer Cam Thompson, is thankfully given a substantial role here rather than just reducing to a mere sex object typically expected from a Michael Bay film. Her solid supporting turn in this film is worth mentioning here, who also serves as a moral compass for Will and Danny.
Bay doesn’t forget to inject some humour here and I’m glad it’s not the cringey and juvenile types seen in his Transformers films. He even has a fun time inserting a couple of in-jokes referencing some of his own past films.
It may have been far from some of Bay’s best works seen in the ’90s but the combination of a trio of engaging performances and several thrilling action moments made Ambulance a decent watch.