When you see a Michael Bay movie, quality isn’t always assured. So his latest action-thriller Ambulance is a pleasant surprise in many ways. With its quick pace and engaging performances, it can almost make up for its zany plot – or it would be if the way it’s filmed wasn’t so nauseating.
With a script by Chris Fedak, the film is based on the Danish film of the same name by Laurits Munch-Petersen and Lars Andreas Pedersen. Two adoptive siblings, Will Sharp (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) and Danny Sharp (Jake Gyllenhaal) hijack an ambulance during a bank robbery and take an injured cop (Jackson White) and an EMS worker (Eiza González) hostage. The movie was made during the pandemic in Los Angeles and made impressive use of the city in which it was filmed.
As we see in flashbacks, Will and Danny were raised as brothers but have become estranged due to their different choices in life. Will is a veteran, while Danny continues to work in crime as their father did. Will’s wife wants him to stay away from his brother, but she needs surgery, and their insurance isn’t complying. (The film approaches making a much-needed critique about how this country treats veterans, but it never quite gets there.)
Will is struggling to find a job and is worried about caring for his wife and young son, so he goes to Danny to ask for help. Instead, Danny guilts him about his absence and invites him to join him in a robbery of the LA Federal Bank. Will is reluctant to join but ultimately feels he has no other options.
The plot around the two brothers is complicated enough, even though it never fully dives into the generational trauma that the two have from their father’s criminal past or how Will initially got away from this life of crime. However, the film introduces character after character, from the cops who initially get caught up in the bank robbery to the wider LAPD team to the EMS workers.
The character who gets the most screentime aside from the brothers is Cam Thompson (Gonzalez), an ambulance worker who is fantastic with kids but doesn’t care to hear about the patients after dropping them off at the hospital. Her new partner Scott (Colin Woodell) is puzzled by her seeming lack of care, but she warns him against getting attached.
Plotlines collide when Will and Danny steal an ambulance while trying to get away from the bank after the robbery goes off-course. Unfortunately, Cam is inside along with the cop that Will previously injured. This begins a car chase that takes up the rest of the film as we watch it occur in real-time. Danny and Will are determined to get away with the money while also keeping the cop alive so that they cannot be charged with killing an officer.
The movie offers some genuine thrills, from a complicated surgery done in the ambulance while it races down a highway to the brothers singing along to “Sailing.” While Gyllenhaal often falls into an exaggerated, crazy-eyes performance, Abdul-Mateen gives a genuinely moving performance. Lorne Balfe’s score is serviceable, and the moments of comedy, like a joke about Braveheart winning Grammys, are pleasant.
However, Roberto De Angelis’s cinematography and Pietro Scalia’s editing are messy and chaotic. While the drone footage and overabundance of shaky camerawork certainly keep the energy of the film high, they also caused a bad headache and nausea for me personally. (And I’m not the only person who’s reacted thus, based on Letterboxd reviews.) Those who can get out of the film without any adverse physical effects might perhaps enjoy it more, but how poorly I felt during and after watching it brought the whole movie down for me.
While very engaging and filled with nonstop action, Ambulance overstays its welcome with its runtime of 136 minutes. Combined with the messy cinematography and editing, it’s exhausting to sit through. Nevertheless, Ambulance shows that Michael Bay can still put together a thrilling film but shows that he has never learned how to use restraint.
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This post was produced and syndicated by Wealth of Geeks.
Image Credit: Universal Pictures.
Nicole Ackman is a writer, podcaster, and historian based in North Carolina. She loves period dramas, the MCU, and theatre. Nicole is a member of the North Carolina Film Critics Association and the Online Association of Female Film Critics and is Tomato-Meter Approved.