Published April 8, 2022 at ZekeFilm.org.
Michael Bay’s Latest Bit of Majestic Chaos is High on Speed
DIRECTOR: MICHAEL BAY/2022
Bay is back, baby!
Okay, it hasn’t technically been that long since a new installment of Michael Bay’s singular vision of mayhem was released, but it’s been at least a decade since one felt like an event—perhaps the second Transformers in 2009? I haven’t bothered to check anything out past 2013’s Pain & Gain, which is—not hyperbolizing here—one of the most bananas studio movies I’ve ever seen, and the last to capture my imagination was 2005’s The Island. So let me rephrase: Bay is back for those of us who don’t care about bots, body builders, or Benghazi, baby!
The plot of Ambulance—or AmbuLAnce, as the marketing insists—is simple enough Tarzan could explain it: “Me bank robber, you ambulance.” The stock characters populating the story match its complexity. Yahya Abdul-Mateen and Jake Gyllenhaal play characters with names (Will and Danny Sharp), but you will leave calling them The Main Character and His Brother. Moses Ingram plays Main Character’s Loving Wife, who, if memory serves, holds a baby in every frame she appears. Will/Main Character needs money for surgery, and Danny/His Brother’s bank job seems like his last option. When the heist dissolves into a violent bout of Murphy’s Law, the brothers commandeer an ambulance, taking its EMT (Eiza González) hostage. From there, it’s a race against the LAPD, FBI, and SIS to escape with their millions in tow.
The premise is easy to explain, but no writing can capture the majestic chaos of Ambulance. It’s a little bit about fathers and brothers, a little bit about the chimera of the American Dream, and a little bit about why you should never rob a bank in Birkenstocks, but mostly it’s about non-stop adrenaline.This movie steals the taut plotting of Speed with its single vehicular setting, but the question is not if a bomb will go off but how many. My mouth hung open in a stupid grin at the sight of wreckage so over-the-top it bordered on comedy, and several times I held back the urge to jump up and cheer at the pandemonium before me. Ambulance is a rush of destruction, a symphony of mayhem, a beatific riot; on my ride home I tried not to think about what that level of catharsis in a violent romp says about me. (Needless to say, if you’re looking for thoughtful analysis on the politics of law enforcement in this film, that is a service I can’t provide.) The non-stop adrenaline does not just come courtesy of the action, either. If bullets aren’t spraying or cars aren’t flipping, the edit is still speeding through cut after cut after cut. Extreme close-up shots! Bullet hole shots! Map shots! Geothermal shots! Drone shots moving up and down the sides of buildings! The camera gives us a 360° experience and then some.
Also giving “and then some:” Jake Gyllenhaal. With a story so thin it’s running on fumes within an hour, only movie star charisma can keep it coasting. Abdul-Mateen and González are no featherweights, but the real heist in Ambulance is Gyllenhaal’s. His manic intensity from Zodiac meets his inner Nicolas Cage, and he steals the show even from the biggest set pieces. The action is a spectacle, but nothing can compete with his part-villain/part-comic relief showcase. He screams about his cashmere sweater and sets up one of the funniest needle drops I’ve seen in a minute, but he could still jump us at any second. Let me be the first to sign the petition for his Best Actor 2023 campaign!
With excessive explosions and a high-concept story, Ambulance fits right in a marathon of your favorite action classics of the ‘80s and ‘90s, like Speed, the LA-set Beverly Hills Cop, and the anti-bureaucratic Lethal Weapon. And how about Bay’s ‘90s hits Bad Boys and The Rock? In a move almost bananas enough for Pain & Gain, a character praises those movies by name early in Ambulance and then gets to be the hero of his own Michael Bay movie. Since you’re watching him pull off all the best action clichés with glee yet again, you won’t mind that chutzpah because it can only mean one thing: Bay is back, baby!