A good movie flickers throughout Ambulance, like a light bulb in a haunted mansion. The only problem is, as always, director Michael Bay can’t step back and let the story tell itself. Noooooo. He has to shoot every scene like he’s directing a Super Bowl commercial with a gun to his head. That means every 30 seconds has to contain $18 million worth of visuals, and the only way to be sure they get across is to dry hump our eyeballs with the reckless fury of a horny chimp at the zoo. After about forty minutes of whip pans, lens flares, and frantic drone shots, I needed somebody to bring me a barf bucket and a smoldering spliff of Blueberry Yum-Yums.
Based on a 2005 Danish thriller of the same name, Ambulance mostly takes place over one long day. Will Sharp (Yahya Abdul-Mateen) is a decorated Marine, still adjusting to life at home. This includes the stress of funding his wife’s (Moses Ingram) cancer treatment, to which VA bureaucrats constantly give him the polite runaround.
Exasperated, Will turns to Danny (Jake Gyllenhaal), his adopted brother, for a loan. We learn that Danny is a brilliant bank robber who’s lousy with money. The only way Danny can procure the money is a massive heist…but only if Will signs on as the getaway driver. At the end of his rope, Will reluctantly comes aboard.
If you haven’t guessed the job goes to shit on a shingle, then you need to watch a few more movies. Will and Danny arrive at the bank, with their crew of assorted numbnuts in tow. Just as they’re about to bag the cash and leave, two young cops (Jackson White and Cedric Sanders) stumble onto the heist. They suss out what’s happening, and a firefight ensues. One of the cops is gravely wounded, escalating this situation into a prison stretch nobody wants.
As luck would have it, the brothers happen upon an approaching ambulance. They chuck out the driver, and enlist Cam, the stunned EMT (Eiza González), to fix the young police officer. Will throws on some paramedic gear and hops behind the wheel. In the mounting chaos at the crime scene, their ambulance slips away.
Naturally, their hostage isn’t just any EMT: Cam is brilliant, fierce, and level-headed, and she soon gets to know her captors. She finds their motives and personalities are not equal. Danny is in it for the thrill, but Will is just a decent guy in a bad situation. As the day wears on, Cam slowly builds a rapport with the kindler, gentler brother.
Meanwhile, the cops cobble together a plan to cap the robbers and rescue the hostages. They’re led by Captain Monroe (Garret Dillahunt), whose aviator shades and casual dad-shorts act like a raised middle finger to everyone else in the film. He’s the typical movie cop, designed to be arrogant and reckless, just to prolong the story. Meanwhile, the screenwriter adds a bookish FBI guy (Keir O’Donnell), presumably so he and Monroe can scream at each other for a few scenes.
In fact, it’s amazing how much time this movie spends on sheer pointlessness. Lots of superfluous characters. Lots of undernourished subplots. The original version of Ambulance clocked in at a lean 75 minutes. This one’s within striking distance of twice that long. Here’s a spoiler, my cuddly readers: It feels every bit that long.
A major culprit for that is Bay himself. The legendarily egomaniacal director uses souped-up drones to film the action. These technological terrors swoop through the chases and gunfights, like Wile E. Coyote mounted to a roaring rocket. They make Bay’s action scenes more incoherent, and I didn’t even that think was possible. As for the editing, it’s like someone told the crew that if they didn’t cut the film every two seconds, an orphanage would be set on fire. Rest assured, my friends, Oliver and Company are sleeping safe and sound.
Actually, I imagine this movie being edited by Edward Scissorhands. That’s probably why much of Ambulance is unintelligible: The final print of this film probably resembles a finely-shaped boxwood. Long story short, every Michael Bay movie brings me one step closer to understanding the Twisties.
By now, you’re probably thinking this review doesn’t match the star rating at the top of it. And you’re right. A good deal of Ambulance would be like taking a 3 iron to the Nutter Butters, if it wasn’t for one thing: The performances. Gyllenhaal and Abdul-Mateen bring ferocious intensity to their roles, adding a full star to its rating. That goes ditto for González, who plays off both actors with tremendous skill. This trio is so convincing, so compelling, that I almost forgot how wrongheaded the rest of the movie is.
Almost. And in the hands of a director with more, um…restraint, this could’ve been a much better ride. The story has good bones, and the talent is more than game. Unfortunately, Ambulance is an overlong shambles, and a huge disappointment. It just goes to prove: Even a halfway decent Michael Bay film is still pretty bad.
136 min. R. On demand.