Film review: ‘AMBULANCE’ by Nick Gardener from ‘Built For Speed’


Director Michael Bay’s career has been marked by borderline unwatchable films such as the Transformers and Bad Boys franchises that feature maddeningly fidgety, hyper-manic action sequences and occasional gore mixed with ridiculous goofball humour. His latest audience-punisher, action heist film Ambulance, is, despite some redeeming features, mostly more and in fact too much of the same.

Here, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II (The Trial of the Chicago 7, Candyman) plays the decent but struggling former criminal and marine, Will Sharp who’s desperate for some quick cash to pay for his son’s urgently needed operation. While keen to distance himself from his criminal past, he signs on to a bank heist with the clearly unhinged armed robber Danny Sharp (Jake Gyllenhaal) who also happens to be Will’s adoptive brother. When police unexpectedly turn up during the bank job, the plan goes haywire and to escape the scene, Will and Danny hijack an ambulance where young paramedic Cam (Eiza Gonzalez) is desperately trying to save the life of a police officer shot in the robbery. The film turns into a very extended chase through LA as the hijackers try to evade police while keeping their ‘ace in the hole’ police officer from dying.

This is mostly two-plus hours of car crashes, shoot-outs, slow motion walking and squabbling between Danny, Will and just about everyone else. It’s essentially one long action scene with frenetic dialogue pasted on top.  While technically there is a lot of action, most of the kinetic energy it might have had is killed by the film’s infuriating visual style and rhythm which involves gratuitous swirling and swooping camera movements and manic, disjointed editing.  This approach was clearly meant to turn up both the tension and excitement but instead it chops most of the film into painfully overwrought fragments.

As with all Michael Bay films, the director tries to spice up the action with what is meant to be comedy. Rather than being funny, most of these segments are annoying or downright weird such as when Will and Jake suddenly stop bashing and threatening to murder people including each other and sing along to Christopher Cross’s ‘Sailing’.  Scenes like these plough into the film at right angles but rather than being bracingly inventive, just add to the film’s incoherence.

Despite the films exhausting lunkheadedness, the three leads are surprisingly effective. Jake Gyllenhaal draws on the crazed intense persona he’s honed through vastly superior films like Donnie Darko and Night Crawler to make Danny a vaguely enjoyable oddball. Yahya Abdul-Mateen makes Will a believably decent guy although he’s a little too easily drawn into what was obviously going to be a violent robbery, while Eiza Gonzalez, despite being held Megan Fox-like by the camera’s gaze, effectively mixes commitment, compassion and a tough as nails attitude as the paramedic heroine.  Bay throws in a host of other characters including the hoary old cliché of the grizzled police captain (Garret Dillahunt) going toe to toe with the young, smartass, blow-in FBI agent (Keir O’Donnell).  Bay provides a strangely detailed backstory for each character but it adds nothing to their impact.

Bay devotees will find just about everything they’ve loved about the director’s films here while detractors will feel confident he hasn’t contradicted their view.  It’s overlong, it’s ridiculous, mostly in a bad way but the three leads just manage to make this infuriating film tolerable.

Nick’s rating:    1/2.

Genre: Action/ drama.

Classification: MA15+

Director(s): Michael Bay.

Release date: 7th Apr 2022.

Running time: 136 mins.

Reviewer: Nick Gardener can be heard on “Built For Speed” every Friday night from 8-10pm right here on 88.3 Southern FM.  Nick can also be heard on “The Good, The Bad, The Ugly Film Show” podcast.


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