Review: 'Ambulance' is Action Central
Jake Gyllenhaal kinda ruins the new Michael Bay movie, "Ambulance." Not by dint of any particular thing he does, exactly, but just by being in it. Let me explain.
If an alien visitor pulled up to our planet one day in some sort of interstellar space Uber and wanted to know what a Michael Bay movie was, we could just show them "Ambulance." Oh, we could also pull out "Armageddon" or "The Rock" or any of the five "Transformers" films that Bay directed; those would do, too. But "Ambulance" shows all that needs to be known about this director's pop-apocalyptic cinema.
In telling the story of a Los Angeles EMT team whose ambulance gets hijacked by gun-waving bank robbers, Bay goes full-auto: sirens scream, tires screech, vehicles somersault through the air, and bullets chew up every surface in sight. Explosions are not infrequent. The movie is based on a 2005 Danish film whose story Bay has stretched out to be nearly an hour longer than the original. But so what? Far from being a simpleminded hack, Bay is a virtuoso in his chosen genre of blockbuster pandemonium. Critics don't like it? Again, so what? As the director once famously said in response to the legion of snooty scribblers who disdain his work, "I make movies for teenage boys. Oh dear, what a crime."
In "Ambulance," he once again delivers. True, the story he and writer Chris Fedak have come up with in adapting the earlier Danish film should probably carry a trigger warning for people prone to attacks of violent eye-rolling. First of all, we're asked to believe that Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, who is Black, and Jake Gyllenhaal, who is emphatically white, are brothers: Will and Danny Sharp. All right, adoptive brothers -- Will was taken in as a kid by Danny's father, a "legendary" bank robber (we're later told). In the years since, Danny has followed in his dad's footsteps, and is now credited with masterminding 38 bank jobs. (So committed is he to his illicit craft that he once studied criminology at the University of Maryland just to learn how crimefighters think -- the better to foil them.) His brother Will, meanwhile, went on to become a war hero in Afghanistan and now, with a wife and child to support, is struggling to stay on the straight-and-narrow. When Danny asks him to take part in a new project -- a $32-million bank heist -- Will is reluctant; but his wife (Moses Ingram) needs surgery, and he needs the money to pay for it, so he signs up for Danny's caper.
Let's pause here to note that the wife-and-kid thing -- complete with adorable baby close-ups -- is not canonical Michael Bay. And while he's not been averse to trafficking in romance in the past, there is little of it in this movie, apart from the bit where a cop walks into a bank in the middle of a robbery just because he wanted to ask one of the tellers for a date. As for sexy, there's none of that at all.
What there is, fans should be happy to know, is an avalanche of top-drawer auto-chase stunts and madly agitated camerawork. (Just when you think the camera has fulfilled all possible shaky-cam duties, it takes a drone leap off the top of a tall building and plummets down toward the ground, barely pulling up in time to avoid landing with a splat at the bottom.) The action staging is generally unimprovable, from the straight street battles to a careening helicopter chase through the concrete channel of the LA River to a bloody but funny sequence of improvised surgery inside the speeding ambulance. If you love this sort of thing, here it is, lots of it.
What's not to like? Well, there's a little too much plot, and thus too many characters -- street cops, FBI guys, various flavors of criminal. Eiza Gonzalez brings tough-lady energy as the chief of the ambulance Will and Danny hijack, and Olivia Stambouliah gets some actual funny lines as a sour police lieutenant ("This is a very expensive car chase," she says, perhaps speaking for the budget-hawk producers). But the movie's too crowded. And too long. And thus, toward the end, monotonous.
Finally, there's the Jake Gyllenhaal problem. Gyllenhaal has been such an adventurous actor for so long in movies ranging from "Brokeback Mountain" to "Nightcrawler," "Nocturnal Animals," and the great "Zodiac" that his alertness and intelligence are a little distracting in an almost abstract genre exercise like "Ambulance." When he's compelled to snarl and shout in the course of being a standard bad guy, it's a little embarrassing because he's so overqualified for the job. He never phones it in, but he could -- and it would probably be pretty good.
Kurt Loder is the film critic for Reason Online. To find out more about Kurt Loder and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.Copyright 2022 Creators Syndicate, Inc.