Ambulance Review

Infamous for his critically panned ‘Transformer’ films, Michael Bay is not the first name that comes to mind when you think of quality cinema. His juvenile writing, excessive visual effects, and monotonous action sequences makes his most notable work a slog to sit through. He has made some enjoyable films in the past, but his reliability of making competent films has yet to be proven. So, why is his latest theatrical endeavor ‘Ambulance’ a surprisingly modest, yet captivating action-thriller?

Made on a conservative $40 million budget that is largely absent of computer-generated visual effects, ‘Ambulance’ goes through familiar beats of the action genre. Will Sharp, the protagonist (played by Yahya Abdul-Mateen II), is a sympathetic anti-hero who is thrown into a dangerous heist mission thanks to his adoptive brother Danny, played by Jake Gyllenhaal. I’m a strong advocate for Yahya Abdul-Mateen II. Every time I see him act in a film or television series, I’m always taken aback by how seriously he assumes the role. In ‘Ambulance’, you feel the desperation in his voice that gives every word weight and purpose. While the script is nothing remarkable, none of the characters feel fabricated or artificial. Well, except for perhaps Jake Gyllenhaal, who didn’t seem particularly interesting.

For a sociopathic criminal, Gyllenhaal didn’t authentically convey the maniacal nature of Danny very well, so whenever he loses his temper, it seemed spontaneously put in the scene. It isn’t a bad performance, but it’s by no means Gyllenhaal’s greatest either. But the purpose of this film is not to critically examine the characters. This is still a Michael Bay film, after all! I do commend the fact that I became invested in the overarching narrative and character dynamics, but the majority of the film is superimposed on an elaborate and exhilarating car chase across the metropolis of Los Angeles. The title of the film does not lie. Most of the film takes place inside a moving ambulance with a paramedic and injured police officer held hostage by two adoptive brothers who are foils to each other.

One brother is a respectable veteran trying to secure cash for his struggling family, whereas the other brother is the heir to a criminal mastermind with a history of successful elaborate heists. Conceptually, we already have a compelling scenario without the existence of the city-wide car chase. We could have an engaging heist film with two leading men who are loyal to each other, yet have completely different backgrounds. With the addition of the expansive car chase that assumes the majority of the film’s runtime, that character dynamic still exists, but they are now positioned under a time limit. They have to keep the injured police officer alive, while running away from the pursuant authorities. If the officer dies, then the police would undoubtedly kill the brothers. With these overlapping conflicts (the car chase, the dying officer, and the conflict between the brothers), we get one of the most heart racing action films of the decade.

This relentless energy is further accentuated by the awesome drone shots. Michael Bay managed to get his hands on a drone for this film and he took full advantage of it. Intense action sequences are often complimented by wild tracking shots captured via drone. These drone shots sometimes take place indoors while the action is unfolding, but they are mostly reserved for scaling the various Los Angeles skyscrapers. There’s not a single shot that isn’t stationary. The film is in constant motion, which leads me to consider this one of the few films that genuinely feels like a roller-coaster. Miraculously, I have never felt motion sick or dizzy while watching ‘Ambulance’, despite the multitude of drone shots literally spinning and zooming in a variety of directions. Suffice to say, the cinematography makes this film a literal thrill ride.

It’s not a Michael Bay film without an unrealistically giant explosion

Contrary to his ‘Transformers’ film, ‘Ambulance’ is a film I would want to return to multiple times like a kid running back for a second round at his favorite amusement park ride. While a bit more dramatic and serious than something like King Da Ka, Michael Bay proves that his signature directorial style of including unnecessary techniques for show could strengthen an action film. If Bay intends on pursuing projects similar to ‘Ambulance’, then consider me a fan eagerly waiting for more.

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Peter Finaldi

Graduate at Rutgers University. Writes about movies, video games, and anything else that I find interesting. My twitter: @PeterJFinaldi