Exhausting 'Ambulance' Marks A Return To Form For Michael Bay
The green screens are gone, but the overcooked swagger remains.
Michael Bay's Ambulance conjures memories of the early '90s, when directors like John McTiernan and brothers Ridley and Tony Scott owned the action genre, along with James Cameron and Michael Mann. And that's because the mind behind Ambulance, director Michael Bay, has been imitating those great filmmakers his entire career. And that's what Ambulance is — an imitation of a worthwhile actioner, with Bay's signature overcooked flourishes.
Ambulance, written by Chris Fedak and based on a 2005 Danish thriller, provides the requisite set-up for Bay to go off. The story revolves around two brothers from different mothers: war veteran Will (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) and lifelong criminal Danny (Jake Gyllenhaal). Will needs money for his wife's surgery and Danny has a plan — a $32 million bank heist. When things go wrong, the boys hijack the title vehicle, with a feisty EMT (Eiza González) and a dying cop (Jackson White) in tow.
During the movie's early scenes, when nothing is really happening, you can almost feel Bay bursting at the seams. It's the action that feeds the director's fetish, and he shoots conversations the same way he shoots car chases, with 101 cuts and camera angles. During Bogart's day, a shootout had 3-4 shots. Sergio Leone added more. John Woo added way more. And Michael Bay has taken it to the silliest extreme possible. Ambulance is made for the attention deficient.
Bay's penchant for music video-style swag, lens flares, and perpetual motion is a challenge. (Lenser Roberto De Angelis must have a strong stomach.) But Ambulance contains even more to overcome. The film is a sensory assault. Loud, and overly long at 136 minutes, the action is what it is. But the performances are exhausting, too. Gyllenhaal screams bloody murder the entire film. The Oscar-nominated actor is gung-ho as usual, but it's grating here. Abdul-Mateen brings little to a thinly sketched character. None of the supporting characters stand out. But they have no help. The narrative is one-note and predictable.
Bank heist-wise, there's plenty to admire in Ambulance. Fans of those old '90s favorites like Bad Boys and Heat will love the tactical chest bumping and weapons on display. Gyllenhaal and Abdul-Mateen are naturals with automatic rifles in their hands. And then there's Bay, of course. Ambulance can definitely be described as a return to form.
You can separate Bay's films into pre- and post-CGI eras. He really got sucked into the green screen black hole making all those Transformers movies. And, with the exception of 2013's Pain and Gain, he hasn't emerged until now. Even 2019's 6 Underground lacked any semblance of reality. Ambulance marks a return to Bay's pre-CGI days, when his films were, at worst, watchable. The man of a billion shots is back. Whether or not that's a good thing remains to be seen.