“They don’t make ‘em like they used to” goes the old adage, and Hollywood actioneer Michael Bay gives it the middle finger with his latest film, Ambulance – a callback to the brand of action movies made in the eighties and nineties that hit the screen with maximum impact. The term “crowd pleaser” comes to mind.
Set in Los Angeles, Ambulance involves a bank heist gone wrong and plays out like the hyperactive child of Reservoir Dogs and Speed. Hitting the ground running, the film wastes no time establishing its characters.
Jake Gyllenhaal and Yahya Abdul-Mateen II play brothers who have grown up in a bank-robbing family. Will (Abdul-Mateen II) is the foster child who broke away from their criminal ways and joined the army. Now a seasoned veteran struggling to make ends meet, he calls upon his brother, Danny (Gyllenhaal), for help.
Danny ropes Will into a once-in-a-lifetime bank job and in true Hollywood fashion, things go wrong. They shoot a cop, steal an ambulance, and, racing against time, spend the entire movie wreaking havoc on the streets of LA, with the full force of the LAPD and FBI on their tail.
It’s a very basic premise (which was loosely adapted by a 2005 Danish film of the same name) and it’s this simplicity that allows Bay to stage one of his most frantic and cinematically nauseating movies in decades. There is barely a frame of this film without motion, and whether the camera is hopscotching between cars in high pursuit or simply capturing a moment of composure, Bay’s lens wants more, like an impatient child being restrained from an ice cream.
The cast is a serviceable roll call of talent, with Gyllenhaal relishing the opportunity to go full psycho. His energy matches Bay’s style and his enthusiasm will surely be the ultimate reason many people enjoy this flick. There’s also a wry sense of awareness going on throughout the film as the action continues to escalate, as if Gyllenhaal is winking at the audience and admitting, “Yes, yes I know, but isn’t it fun?”
Abdul-Mateen II (Candyman) is also solid as the bad guy who’s really a good guy. Having been unwillingly roped into the situation, he provides the moral compass for the siblings’ escapades. Eiza Gonzalez (Baby Driver) plays the paramedic taken hostage and stuck in the back with a dying police officer (Jackson White), while the other side of the law is represented by Garret Dillahunt (Army of the Dead) and Aussie actor Keir O’Donnell (The Dry), whose characters are torn straight out of the ’90s action manual.
If you’re thinking Ambulance sounds totally clichéd, you are correct. It’s the type of action movie that Hollywood used to make but doesn’t anymore. It’s pure style over substance, with a focus on the money shots (of which there are hundreds), and surprisingly violent in the way action flicks used to be.
Michael Bay loves this stuff and he’s the director people love to hate, while secretly loving him. Ambulance is his trip down memory lane, recalling his earlier actioners like The Rock and Bad Boys while conjuring memories of other favourites like Con-Air and The Last Boy Scout.
Perhaps the most impressive thing about Ambulance is its incredible $40 million budget, which in Hollywood terms is ridiculously low (Bay’s average budget for the Transformers movies was $200 million). But keep in mind that most of what he puts on screen here is achieved with practical special effects and stunt work – and a little CGI, of course.
Ambulance proves to be the most relentlessly paced movie of the year to date and complemented by a pulse-pounding score and sound design, which assaults the audience with noise. Needless to say, it’s an immensely enjoyable experience from a true master of action.
In cinemas: April 7, 2022
Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Eiza Gonzalez
Directed by: Michael Bay