One day, drone camerawork will become a blasé part of filmmaking. Today, it is a burgeoning, exciting expansion of the production process, employed with dizzying exhilaration in Michael Bay’s “Ambulance.”
Filmed in under 40 days, the action thriller is raw, uncut “Bayhem,” a loud, sensorially assaultive cacophony that, when graded on the post-pandemic parabola, satisfies you by doing what you would expect while avoiding most of the usual Bay pitfalls.
Adopted brothers Will (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) and Danny Sharp (Jake Gyllenhaal) took different career paths. Danny followed in the felonious footsteps of his late father, a notoriously violent bank robber. Wanting no part of the family business, Will joins the Marines and serves a Middle East tour of duty. Back home in Los Angeles, Will’s wife needs expensive experimental surgery, but the VA won’t pay for it. When a desperate Will hits up Danny for a loan, Danny cajoles Will into helping out with a multi-million dollar bank heist that just happens to be going down that day.
Bay’s staging of the bank robbery, while not in the same league as Michael Mann’s “Heat,” is taut, engrossing and well staged. When Danny’s plan goes deadly awry, he and Will escape the police by hijacking an ambulance and taking hostage EMT Cam Thompson (Eiza González) and Zach, a police officer Will accidentally shot during the getaway.
In contrast to his murderous old man, Danny has not wish to add homicides to his rap sheet. So he and Will set out to conjure a way out while also helping Cam keep Zach alive. The rest of “Ambulance” comprises a protracted car chase, albeit one with exquisite land and air stunt work.
In between, Bay indulges his penchant for gunfire, explosions, actors screaming their dialogue, and humor that would only land on movie night in a frat house. The storyline also raises a number of unanswered questions, such as exactly how long can an ambulance drive on one tank of gas? Why didn’t Danny and Will wear masks? How is Zach awake and chatting with Cam about a half hour after she and Will perform an open-chest surgical procedure on Zach and his spleen bursts in the process? And if Cam’s primary focus is keeping Zach alive, why does she attempt to escape at one point while leaving Zach behind?
The film is based on a 2005 Danish film of the same name, which clocked in at a tidy 80 minutes. Bay drags on for over 135 minutes, which is overlong to the point of preposterous. Needless elements are globbed on, including a Latino street gang who turns from friend to foe and no fewer than two self-reverential references to Bay’s oeuvre. Any sidelong salute to emergency service personnel that Bay may have intended gets suffocated by the film’s sheer sound and fury.
Still, you do not go to a Michael Bay movie for emotional or intellectual depth, and for all of Bay’s many faults, he has always been a dexterous visual filmmaker. “Ambulance” excises many of Bay’s excesses, including his reliance on special effects and predilection for offensive humor.
What is left is a high-octane actioner with enough adequate acting to compensate for an otherwise solid plot that gets more risible as the film goes on and on. And if you see “Ambulance,” it is a movie that demands to be seen on the biggest theater screen possible. Given our post-pandemic cinematic landscape, that is as purposeful as a Michael Bay movie has ever been.
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