FILM

Michael Bay’s ‘Ambulance’ is a Propulsive Thrill Ride

There’s something invigorating about watching a director try to set a world record for “Most On-Set Explosions”

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Is it possible to make a blockbuster that’s as dumb as it is entertaining, as mindless and pointless as it is escapist? The answer is yes, especially if the name Michael Bay is involved. Ambulance is the 14th film from Bay to feature a stick of dynamite, the first to be written by Chris Fedak and, like its predecessors, it’s a blast. Made with a palpable sense of urgency, it’s a tense and propulsive thriller.

As 2001’s Pearl Harbor proved, the auteur loves to blow shit up, and it’s the genius of Ambulance to marry his persona with a script that requires a number of bazookas, a couple dozen chases, thousands of extras, and millions of dollars in planes, trains, and automobiles. The scale of this movie makes F9 look like Driving Miss Daisy, and there’s something invigorating about watching a director try to set a world record for “Most On-Set Explosions.” How often do you get to see a bank implode? Or a 16-wheeler crash into a brick wall? Only in Bayland can you find this many flashbangs in a story about a normal, working-class man.

Will Sharp (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) ) is a marine who has just returned home from the war. He needs $231,000 to pay for his wife’s cancer treatment, so he reaches out to his adopted brother, Danny (Jake Gyllenhaal), who convinces him to join a heist that happens to be going down right now, this very second. The job doesn’t go as planned (shocker!) and the heist spills out into the streets of Los Angeles. In a heated moment, Will shoots a rookie cop (Jackson White), whose life is saved by a paramedic (Eiza Gonzalez), but not before the brothers hijack her ambulance and flee across Los Angeles in a daylong pursuit.

In true Bayhem fashion, there’s more here than just burnt rubber—so much more. An FBI agent runs out of a therapy session after receiving a text. A bank robber thinks it’s a good idea to wear Birkenstocks on the job, which, in retrospect, isn’t. A police officer brings his dog along for the ride, because in L.A., every police officer has either a dog or a surfboard. Gonzalez cuts open a guy’s spleen with a paperclip, and Gyllenhaal rattles off more one-liners than there are taco shops in downtown L.A.

At first it seems as if Bay might be grounding things in a more realistic world. He doesn’t open on kick-flipping cars, but rather, on an almost muted storyline about PTSD in America. It’s a throwback to the good old days, the essence of what made Bay who he is. But that assumption of minimal violence turns out to be extremely wrong. The movie quickly shifts into gear and into high-speed action with a number of grisly deaths.

The film has some seriously dark themes and moments, but they’re balanced by the lighthearted banter that crackles between Gyllenhaal, Gonzalez, and Abdul-Mateen. Tonally, it’s a bit all over the map, but it doesn’t detract from the fun. Bay knows how to keep things airy even when the stakes are high, like when a chase is accompanied by a sing-a-long to Christopher Cross’ “Sailing,” or when a fight is followed by a joke about L.A. traffic.

Ambulance doesn’t achieve anything new for the director, and it almost runs out of gas at times. Bay fails to reach the same operatic heights and flights of fantasy he pulled off in Bad Boys and Bad Boys 2. But there are many exceptional action sequences, some laughs, and a finale pumped with enough testosterone to turn Young Sheldon into Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson. If that doesn’t sound like a good time at the movies, we don’t what is.

Highlights