*. Comparisons are one of the most useful tools in any critic’s kit, something that can be demonstrated by looking at Michael Bay’s Ambulance. In what follows I’ll make comparisons both to its advantage and disadvantage.
*. Before I even get to those, however, I should say that there’s one comparison I won’t be making. That is the one between this movie and the 2005 Danish film of the same name that it’s a remake of, shifting the action to L.A. I can’t say anything about the relative merits of the two films because I haven’t seen the original. I do note, however, that the Danish Ambulance is 80 minutes and this movie runs 2 hours and 16 minutes. In any event, as with so many cases of Hollywood adaptations of foreign material, the original isn’t even mentioned in any of the extras included with the DVD. I continue to wonder why this is, but let it be.
*. First then, to comparisons that are to its advantage. This is one of Michael Bay’s best films! Indeed, according to the review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes it is the first of Bay’s movies to receive a “fresh” or positive rating since The Rock, which came out in 1996! His filmography is otherwise a wasteland distinguished mainly by several Transformers movies and epic trash like Pearl Harbor and the not-too-bad 13 Hours. So it’s a sort of backhanded compliment: a Michael Bay movie that doesn’t actually suck. Still, comparison to the rest of his oeuvre is a plus.
*. But now let’s try another comparison to another L.A.-based heist movie that came out just the previous year: Wrath of Man. Here the comparison plays against Ambulance. Wrath of Man was an excellent action film put across with style and skill. It’s a movie where the story and the characters are important, with their motivations giving the violence a greater impact and resonance. Ambulance, on the other hand . . .
*. So the story here has a mixed-race pair of brothers — Danny (Jake Gyllenhaal) and Will (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) — joining together to rob a bank. Danny is the crime boss, while Will is going straight. Unfortunately Will is looking for a big payday because he needs money for his wife’s cancer treatment and despite being a vet who served in Afghanistan nobody at Veterans Affairs will even speak to him. Government bureaucrats! Bay has always hated them, presenting them as the forces of evil that manly men (mainly soldiers) must always struggle against. Don’t think popcorn movies like the kind Michael Bay makes don’t carry a lot of ideological freight.
*. The bank job goes to hell and the only survivors of the gang are, of course, Danny and Will, who manage to escape driving a hijacked ambulance that’s also carrying a paramedic (Eiza González) who is trying to save the life of a cop who Will shot. What follows is a feature-length car chase, or ambulance chase, with the police and FBI tearing after Danny and Will, who just want to get home.
*. Eiza González: “You don’t get anything but a spectacle from Michael Bay!” That’s meant as a compliment. Ambulance is high concept — a term of art that means it’s anything but elevated. There are car crashes. There are explosions. There are people shooting guns. There’s even a scene where the ambulance is pursued by helicopters through the Los Angeles River. I didn’t think any of it made a lick of sense. Why didn’t the police, who know where the ambulance is going, lay out some of those spike strips that puncture tires? Wouldn’t that have been easier? I don’t recall that even being mentioned as an option.
*. But then nothing adds up. I also found myself wondering why the helicopters were buzzing the ambulance in the river scene but then read that it wasn’t in the script and it was just tossed in because Bay found he could rent a couple of ‘copters on the day in question.
*. For his part, Bay, who had been going stir crazy in COVID lockdown at the time, races his camera around with high-speed tracking shots and wild, spinning drone acrobatics as a way of heightening the action. I guess. The DVD box cover had a pull quote calling it “Absolute Bayhem!” which I thought worth an eyeroll. But then one of the special features in the DVD was titled Bayhem, so “Bayhem” is a thing now. As they say.
*. I mentioned the running time earlier. It’s too long, and surprisingly slack, with no tension or suspense developed despite all the potential. The whole hospital epilogue is just a huge drag, highlighted by Cam’s boyfriend putting in an appearance. I thought she’d dropped that loser? What did he do to redeem himself? Also: none of the humour works. In fact, it’s annoying. I’m not sure Gyllenhaal was even aware of what kind of a movie he was in, and Bay wasn’t helping him figure it out. And why were they painting the ambulance neon green anyway? To make it less conspicuous?
*. So there you have it. One of Michael Bay’s best movies, or at least the best he can do. And it’s still crap. The thing is, I don’t see where Bay has grown as a filmmaker a bit over the last thirty years, and he wasn’t fresh back in the ’90s. Other people are doing this material a lot better now, and indeed always have been. Ambulance doesn’t even rate as a fast blast down memory lane.
Enjoyed this more than you, but then, that’s usually the case. Bay’s masterpiece, the best since The Rock!
Almost 30 years ago. Time flies. Can’t believe Bay has been at it so long and accomplished so little.
hmmm, Bayhem. I will try to remember that. I doubt it will stick though.
I liked the first 2 Transformer movies.
Bayhem should be limited to the official canon. Though I guess if someone tries to imitate his style then it still counts as Bayhem.
I think Shakespeare would be improved if we Bayhem’ized it.
and let slip the decepticons of war
If we can have Lego Shakespeare and Manga Shakespeare (and we have) I see no reason why we can’t have Bayhem Shakespeare with Transformers. Turn the final acts of the tragedies into giant shoot-’em-ups. Could work.
make them all tragedies where everyone dies in one final massive explosion and we’re good. Audiences will eat it up. With a fork no less!
I thought I’d seen this, but now am not so sure. Anyways, I enjoyed Wrath of Man but found it a bit underwhelming, though nice to see Mr. Hartnett. 13-Hours was good!
I’d rate this well below Wrath of Man so I wouldn’t recommend it to you. It’s really very silly and not very well done when it gets down to the actual ambulance chase stuff.
Been sitting on this one for a while. Not sure if this review has knocked it up or down the watchlist. Good write up though.
I actually had somewhat high hopes for it, but it really was disappointing coming after Wrath of Man, which was a much, much better movie. This one didn’t work because it was a simple idea stretched out way too long, the actual chase was very silly, and Gyllenhaal, despite however hard he’s been working out, is really out of place in the role.
For this one, I was a bit surprised they seemed to show everything the movie was all about in the trailer. Passed on it both at the theatres and for home viewing. I too must confess a love for Michael’s Transformers films, although it is because they are chaotic more than good films. Sometimes I just need robots beating on each other while destroying cities.
Yeah, “everything the movie was all about” could be summed up in about five seconds. There are good explosions and stuff, but that’s it and I think Transformers might be more cathartic. Take it you’re all pumped for draft weekend?
I am. Our Eagles always have a funny way of doing the unexpected early on. To be honest, I’ve always found the draft to be a real cross-your-fingers, roll-of-the-dice situation. For all the film study, testing, and interviews they put these college guys through, who knows who’ll cut it and who’ll just get cut?
I think it’s that lottery aspect that makes it so much fun for fans. The Eagles have a couple of firsts this year don’t they? Doubles your odds of getting someone good. Bills are at the back of the pack so I’m not expecting much.
Loving the original animated Transformers growing up, I also ended up enjoying the visual spectacle of Bay’s Transformers movies but hated his stories and characters… When Ambulance came out, you could tell it was a Bay movie and I ended up never wanting to really give it a shot. It doesn’t seem like I missed out on much with this one. Maybe an explosion or two? 🙂
I just didn’t think this worked even on the level of a chase movie. There are some car crashes and explosions but that’s it. Better stuff out there for sure.