I don’t think that anyone has ever accused Michael Bay of making an intelligent film.
He is the king of what has come to be called “Bayhem.” His movies involve non-stop action and things blowing up, in spectacular fashion.
He’s the director behind the Transformer movies, the Bad Boys movies and his version of Pearl Harbor, meant to target the video game generation.
His movies are all about entertainment and escapism. For the record, there is nothing wrong about cranking out movies like that. Many of us go to the movies for the specific purpose of being entertained and escaping day to day reality.
Bay’s latest offering Ambulance (2022) aims to do just that.
It’s an adaptation of a Danish film about a couple of criminals who commandeer an ambulance when a bank heist goes terribly wrong and they need to flee for their lives, taking along a couple of bags filled with money.
It’s a great premise. Not surprisingly, the trailers looked adrenaline charged. The visuals were trademark Michael Bay, comprised of action sequences featuring gunfire and crashing vehicles. It looked like a thrill ride of a movie.
But then came the actual movie, which turned out to be an aimless, preposterous story that had the earmarks of being made up as the film was being shot.
It begins as the tale of two brothers, Danny sharp and Will sharp, played by Jake Gyllenhaal and Yahya Abdul-Mateen II. Initially we see them as young boys, laughing and playing.
We discover that Will is Danny’s adopted brother, who grew up, became a soldier in Afghanistan and later a struggling army veteran trying to arrange veterans medical benefit coverage for his young wife’s expensive experimental surgery.
When everything fails, he turns to his brother for help. But what he is offered is a chance to be part of an air-tight, no-risk bank heist scheme. In the movies, we all know that this never pans out. Ever. It’s been tried a million times. It just never works.
Not surprisingly, it doesn’t work here. The heist soon goes straight to hell and the bothers are scrambling to find a way out with the two satchels of money that they managed to grab.
When one of the brothers shoots and wounds a cop, an ambulance is called to the scene and in a moment of desperation, the two brothers see an opportunity. The ambulance becomes their getaway vehicle. The only problem is that their two unfortunate passengers are a young, attractive EMS worker and the bleeding police officer that they just shot.
What follows is concocted drama on the furthest stretches of believability, with the brothers trying to elude an army of police vehicles and helicopters while their captive ambulance attendant tries to save the life of her patient, all the while bouncing around in the back of an emergency vehicle traveling a break-neck speeds and making hair pin turns.
At one point, some serious abdominal surgery is required, but maybe this is giving away too much.
The audience seems to have a better understanding of the dire situation than the two brothers, who seem to actually think they can somehow make good their escape. There are only so many streets and freeways in Los Angeles. And eventually, even ambulances run out of gas.
It’s clear that none of this will end well. While the two brothers are a couple of likeable guys, they are also guilty of a bloody bank robbery, the massive destruction of property and vehicles and the shooting and subsequent endangerment of a wounded policeman.
It’s hard to root for Denny and Will, despite their fervor and determination. They are criminals who are going to be apprehended and punished.
And that takes some of the fun out of the story, which runs endlessly long.
It’s hard to imagine that a movie with so much violence, action and explosions can be so lackluster, but it is.
Bay fails to bring anything new to the screen that reflects his over-the-top style and energy.
Ambulance tries to get by with shaky-cam shots and rapid-paced editing, and a couple of pop songs thrown in for effect. At one point, the brothers share ear pods so that they can listen to the Christopher Cross song “Sailing” as they try to outdrive their pursuers. The counterpoint, meant to be funny, just doesn’t work.
High speed pursuit movies can be highly entertaining. I’m thinking of movies like Speed (1994), Vanishing Point (1971), or Dirty Mary Crazy Larry (1974). And, of course the whole Fast & Furious franchise.
Car chase movies can be a fun ride. This one isn’t.
It’s just a lot of brainless, by-the-numbers Bayhem.
In real life, the use of spike strips would made this movie far less hokey and contrived, shortening the 2 hour and 16 minutes running time to around five minutes.
Ambulance is in theaters now.