Ambulance is at once extremely Michael Bay, and perhaps the first entry into a new phase of the Bay canon, in which Bay, one of the great technical directors of the contemporary era and also one of the most consistently hyper-masculine and patriotic in a way that borders, and frequently crosses into, toxicity, wrestles with changing attitudes toward depictions of police and policing and representations of masculinity. Is Ambulance a loud, dumb movie? Yes! It is! VERY LOUD and extremely dumb! But it’s also a film that knows the old-fashioned appeal of a Movie Star, and a film that knows sometimes cars going zoom and guns going pew pew and a Movie Star mugging for the camera is extremely fun.
Ambulance has all the usual Bayhem stuff, in fact, it is maximum Bayhem, with so many spinny-zoomy drone shots the film starts to feel like being strapped into a runaway rollercoaster, and tons of 360 pans and choppy cuts that interrupt action to a dislocating degree. Honestly, I wish Bay—a director who often operates his own camera—would hold his shots a little longer, as there is some top-notch car chase stuff in here, but much of the action is edited to smithereens. Sure, I appreciate close-ups of Jake Gyllenhaal’s beautiful blue eyes—and frankly RIDICULOUS eyelashes—but I would also like to have spatial awareness of the scene and a basic sense of action geography. Bay gets the most out of the interior of an ambulance, but whole car chases happen with cars seeming to materialize out of thin air. It would be nice to occasionally see an establishing shot or a wide master to gain perspective on where things are in relation to one another.
But nobody does explosions and gun fights better than Bay, except Kathryn Bigelow, and Ambulance has a lot of explosions and gun fights to entertain. Indeed, Ambulance aspires to be little more than entertaining, and in that regard, it succeeds. Bay, working off a script by Chris Fedak (creator of Chuck), who is in turn adapting a 2005 Danish thriller of the same name from Laurits Munch-Petersen, makes an essentially small story feel very big. Jake Gyllenhaal stars as Danny Sharp, a bank robber who has a day job as some kind of rich person concierge. There’s a solid running gag about Danny trying to manage his day job while in the middle of a heist-crisis, and Ambulance is quite funny at points (Gyllenhaal’s line deliveries are absurd to the point of brilliance). Yahya Abdul-Mateen II stars as Danny’s brother, Will, and yes, the film addresses the nature of their bond and Abdul-Mateen and Gyllenhaal have such good chemistry it’s easy to buy them as life-long friends turned brothers.
Needing money for his wife’s cancer treatment, Will joins Danny for a heist at the last minute, the promise of a life-changing score too much to resist. Will is also a veteran, which fits right into the Bay wheelhouse, though Bay makes an early and laborious point of how the system fails veterans, that a man like Will shouldn’t have to beg for help after serving his country. That’s right, the big bad is for-profit healthcare and America’s sh-t treatment of veterans, which is about as stringent as a Bay critique gets. The heist goes wrong, naturally, and Will and Danny end up in an ambulance with EMT Cam (Eiza Gonzalez) and a wounded cop. Chasing the ambulance is Captain Monroe (Garrett Dillahunt, having a blast), the leader of a special group of cops who investigate the movie-worthy crimes. These are Cool Cops™️ who drive fast cars and have quips! They’re worried about rush hour and collateral damage and ending this thing peaceably! But don’t worry, there’s still tons of property damage and probably a lot of collateral damage, the camera doesn’t stick anywhere long enough to tell for sure.
Ambulance’s biggest issue is just that, at two hours and ten minutes, it’s too long. Early in the film, a character says Cam is the best EMT in Los Angeles—do they have competitions for that, like lifeguards do?—and she can “keep anyone alive for 20 minutes”. You think this would set up a ticking clock element, that they have 20 minutes to deliver Cam and her patient to a hospital, or else the cop dies, but no. Cam’s life-limit has nothing to do with anything (the original Ambulance runs a lean 80 minutes), and Ambulance stretches a simple concept into a film that eventually becomes exhausting, despite the best efforts of Gyllenhaal and Dillahunt to keep the energy up. Abdul-Mateen and Gonzalez are stuck on the “glowering straight man” side of things, though they’re both very good at it, and Moses Ingram is entirely sidelined as Will’s distraught wife.
Ambulance is a mostly fun chase movie that might recognize cops-and-robbers narratives have to adapt, or at the very least, motives must be interrogated. Besides the basic fact that people often root for the robbers in a heist movie—it’s a story, consequence free, we can gain catharsis through the bad guys doing things we would never dream of doing in real life—we also live in a world where we regularly hear about people shoplifting bread and baby formula. The world is broken, and we’re more aware of that than ever, and that awareness seems to have wormed its way into Bay’s filmmaking. No, Michael Bay is not “woke”, but there is evidence of a humanity rarely glimpsed in his films, at the heart of big, dumb, loud Ambulance is a kernel of the Bay that made a testosterone-fueled American nightmare in Pain and Gain. We rarely get to see this side of him, enjoy it while it lasts.
Ambulance is exclusively in theaters from April 8, 2022.