REVIEW – ‘Ambulance’ is an unrelentingly outrageous movie that goes well with popcorn

Say what you will about auteur of the outlandish Michael Bay but the man knows his brand and has steadfastly stuck to it for almost three decades. Bay has never met a building he doesn’t want to destroy or a car he doesn’t want to explode. You know exactly what you’re getting when you plonk your cash down for the latest Bay blockbuster. That’s precisely the case with Ambulance; a (literally) non-stop action thriller that’s as exhausting as it is entertaining.

While Ambulance may not reach the heights of Bay’s 90s gems like The Rock and Bad Boys, it’s easily the best film he’s made in a decade. That’s a low bar to clear when that decade includes those god-awful Transformers sequels, but it’s leagues above 2019’s self-indulgent tripe 6 Underground. Wildly preposterous and chaotically crafted, Ambulance knows exactly what it is and serves up everything you’re expecting….and then some.

Based on Laurits Munch-Petersen’s 2005 Danish film of the same name, Ambulance follows Will Sharp (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II), a decorated veteran struggling with an insurance company who won’t cover live-saving experimental surgery for his sick wife, Amy (Mose Ingram). Desperate to find a way to pay the $230,000 cost (the American health care system, ladies and gentlemen), Will turns to his estranged adoptive brother, Danny (a spectacularly unhinged Jake Gyllenhaal).

While Will seeks a loan from his career criminal brother, Danny instead offers him the opportunity to join his latest bank heist that will elicit $32 million. And, because this is an action movie, Danny and his heist crew are fatefully scheduled to leave mere minutes after Will’s arrival, forcing him to make an immediate decision. With his wife’s life on the line, Will reluctantly agrees to Danny’s offer.

When the robbery goes spectacularly wrong, the brothers hijack an ambulance with gruff but gifted EMT Cam Thompson (Eiza González) and wounded cop Zach (Jackson White) on board as their hostages. It’s not long before the ambulance has practically the entire Los Angeles police force in hot pursuit to not only catch the bank robbers but rescue one of their own as well.

You can almost hear Bay animatedly pitching this film to Universal Pictures; “Picture this – it’s Speed…but with an ambulance!” Bay certainly appears to take influence from Jan de Bont’s 1994 action classic. In that regard, Ambulance probably feels more at home in the cineplexes of the mid-90s than in 2022. Still, these kinds of big, dumb explosion fests are more likely to be dumped on Netflix or Amazon Prime these days, so it’s pleasing to see something so epic receive a theatrical release.

What Bay has produced actually more closely resembles the absolute anarchy of the video game Grand Theft Auto. It’s the closest we’ll get to a cinematic adaptation of that popular game franchise. Just when you think this film couldn’t possibly become any more ridiculous, someone is having their punctured spleen hastily repaired with a hair clip while two surgeons consult via video call from a golf course. Yes, that actually happens. And, yes, it’s as completely crackers as it sounds.

Bay and screenwriter Chris Fedak throw any semblance of realism right out the window. At a certain point, you either have to just give yourself over the utterly absurd nonsense they’ve created or sit in your seat getting progressively angrier. I chose the former and my experience was all the better for it. There’s so much here that makes very little sense, but Bay is having such a grand time putting his protagonists in the most unfathomable of situations. That giddy joy is rather palpable.

Ambulance features all the hallmarks that have made Bay the fourth most commercially successful director in cinema history (after this film, he just might overtake Peter Jackson to become the third). Explosions, gun battles, car crashes, and fist-fighting abound. If that’s your jam, this is the film for you. Impressively, the bulk of the action set pieces appear to have been created almost entirely physically with minimal (or at least noticeable) CGI work. That’s a rarity these days and immense kudos have to be given to Bay’s stunt coordinators for creating some genuinely spectacular sequences.

Proving you can teach an old dog new tricks, Bay has a fancy new gimmick up his sleeve with the use of expertly manoeuvered drones to capture the pure chaos of his stunt pieces. Whether he’s zipping cameras through the tightest of spaces or nosediving up and down the sides of LA skyscrapers, the drone footage certainly adds some spice to the mix. However, by the 17th time your perspective is put in a literal spiral by cinematographer Robert De Angelis, it can become rather nauseating. If you’re even remotely prone to motion sickness, consider yourself warned.

Then there’s Gyllenhaal, who appears to have taken a leaf out of Nicolas Cage’s acting playbook on delivering an unpredictable character who can go from charming to psychotic in the space of a millisecond. Gyllenhaal hasn’t chewed the scenery like this in years and he’s clearly having a ball doing it. Abdul-Mateen’s Will is far more reserved and grounded as the straight man conflicted by his familial connection to a genuine whackjob. Unlike most of Bay’s films, González is blessed with a female protagonist with actual depth. What a concept. She absolutely shines and more than holds her own against Gyllenhaal, which is a tremendous feat in a film like this.

This is a film that hits full speed around ten minutes in and quite literally doesn’t let up until the end credits. It’s a draining experience, but one that’s never dull or boring. Subtlety has never been a word found in Bay’s vocabulary and Ambulance is abundant proof of that. It’s an aggressively loud and unrelentingly outrageous movie that goes well with popcorn. Its narrative is cliché and generic but its high-octane action is so unrelenting that you’re best to just sit back and enjoy this illogical thrill ride.

Distributor: Universal Pictures
Cast: Jake Gyllenhaal, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Eiza González, Moses Ingram, Jackson White, Cedrick Sanders, Garrett Dillahunt, Keir O’Donnell, A Martinez
Director: Michael Bay
Producers: Michael Bay, Ian Bryce, Bradley J. Fischer, William Sherak, James Vanderbilt
Screenplay: Chris Fedak
Cinematography: Roberto De Angelis
Production Design: Karen Frick
Costume Design: Lisa Nora Lovaas
Music: Lorna Balfe
Editor: Pietro Scalia
Running Time: 136 minutes
Release Date: 7th April 2022 (Australia)