Ambulance review – just short of an action classic, and full of ‘Bayhem’

Cast: Jake Gyllenhaal, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Eiza González. Directed by Michael Bay.

Michael Bay has been off the boil for a while. His Transformers movies have become convoluted messes, his side projects suspiciously repugnant and his sense of OTT fun has given way to overlong indulgence. Enter Ambulance a remake of a Danish thriller starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II and Eiza Gonzalez.

Gyllenhaal and Abdul-Mateen II are adopted brothers. Gyllenhaal’s Danny is a career criminal, making a comfy living doing crooked jobs for scary people. Abdul-Mateen II is Will a marine veteran struggling to make ends meet for his unwell wife and newborn son. When Danny offers Will a once in a life time job robbing a bank for 32 million dollars. It goes wrong and they end up with a dying cop and an EMT in a hijacked ambulance and the entire LAPD on their tail.

Bay is a singular director, he directs his own way. That means quick cuts, hand-held, lens flair and weird camera moves. It’s all here. His camera swoops up buildings and back down like a bird in flight, it goes through bullet holes in windows, it’s shakes like nobody’s business. But here it feels like it’s for a purpose, the purpose of making you feel the mounting pressure in both men’s heads.

Taking his time, Bay sets out his characters, Danny is a hot head, Will is a noble person, Gonzalez’s Cam is cold and cut off from the world, allowing for the growing tension of the three to play out. There is some great character work in here, the subtle changes in each character over the course of the film, how they interact with one another and what they feel.

Eiza Gonzalez in Ambulance.

There’s also a comment made about the treatment of veterans and health care in the US but ultimately Bay isn’t all that interested in that, he wants to see the Ambulance crash into stuff and cars to flip, and boy do they flip. Bay throws in meta-references to his past work like The Rock and Bad Boys though it doesn’t feel like he knows he’s being meta at all. 

This is a film with very little under the hood, although Bay’s usual brand of humour is present; in a moment of tension Gyllenhaal drops that he has herpes, someone’s hair is referred to as “so messy you could lose a raccoon”, and there are references to dog farts. Luckily none of this takes away from the mounting tension of the story.

It is, however, too long. What should be the film’s climax – a shoot out, chase while Will and Cam perform open cavity surgery on the dying cop while video calling three surgeons – comes around the halfway point, allowing Bay to slow things down for an encounter with some scary Mexican cartel guys, and another bang bang shoot out followed by explosions. What this could have been is a tight eighty-minute suspense movie, offering the most guiltless enjoyment Bay has had for years – and it almost is – but that indulgent streak in his keeps the film going an hour longer than it should be, resulting in its impact becoming less.

Even so, this is still Bay’s best film since the drillers stopped the end of the world, and some of his best action since Connery invaded Alcatraz. In the end, it’s just short of being an action classic. But, the Bayhem is there.

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