Ambulance knows it's a silly action movie and makes no pretense of being anything else. It was directed by Michael Bay. That might be all one needs to say. You want a big, loud, bombastic, hyperactive thrill ride? Here you go. Bay's work has always been hit-or-miss with me. Mostly miss. Not this time, though. The director displays a newfound – or at least newly emphasized – sense of self-awareness. Rather than taking itself too seriously, the film balances hardcore mayhem with a tongue-in-cheek sense of humor.
Will Sharp (Candyman's Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) is an unemployed veteran who can't pay for the operation his cancer-stricken wife Amy (Moses Ingram) needs. For help, he turns to his adoptive brother Danny (Jake Gyllenhaal). Danny is a world-class bank robber like his late father, although he lacks the same sociopathic tendencies. (It's one of the film's oddities that Mr. Sharp was apparently a ruthless killer and a compassionate soul who helped out kids in need.) An easy, non-violent robbery is about to take place inside a vulnerable bank. The payday will be in the multi-millions. All Will has to do is help out and he can keep a sizable portion of the cash.
Of course, everything goes wrong. To elude the police, Danny and Will hijack an ambulance. They race across Los Angeles while EMT/hostage Cam Thompson (Eiza Gonzalez) tries to prevent the cop Will accidentally shot from dying. That's the first half-hour. The rest of Ambulance is one big chase, with various law enforcement officials pursuing the guys. Cars smash into things (and each other), stuff blows up, shootouts occur, and more.
Bay typically never lets the pace slow. The movie has something happening for just about every single second of its 136-minute running time. We all know that Bay has a frenetic style. It's in full force here. Ambulance has wall-to-wall vehicle-related stunts, some of them filmed with drone cameras to help convey the speed, but also to make viewers feel like they're zipping right along with Will and Danny. This approach has felt tiresome in a few of the director's previous efforts, yet it works here because the concept is fundamentally designed to accommodate his specialties as a filmmaker.
Ambulance also works because Bay moves humor more to the center than he has in the past. Throughout the story, there are weird jokes or bits designed to let us know that the film is aware of its own preposterousness. As one example, there's the cop (Garret Dillahunt) who brings his massive, flatulent dog along with him on the case. The dog has no purpose other than to offer something randomly funny. Later, Will and Danny calm their nerves by goofily singing along to the old Christopher Cross song “Sailing.” Again, out-of-nowhere levity to balance out the chaos.
The biggest key to the movie's entertainment value is the performances. All the oddball comedic moments and well-staged action sequences would mean nothing if we didn't care about the people. Gyllenhaal, Abdul-Mateen, and Gonzalez create characters we want to follow. The stars dive into the shifting dynamics between their characters. Cam recognizes that Will isn't a bad guy, even as he's technically holding her hostage, Will disapproves of Danny's criminal lifestyle despite helping him commit a crime, and so on. They add a human dynamic that provides the movie with a solid center.
Ambulance has many ridiculous plot developments, and it contains very little in the way of substance. The film is a 136-minute adrenaline jolt – nothing more, nothing less. Taken at that level, it's exciting and enjoyable.
out of four
Ambulance is rated R for intense violence, bloody images, and language throughout. The running time is 2 hours and 16 minutes.