For the most part you know what you’re going to get from a Michael Bay movie. Granted, he’ll occasionally throw in a few small twists on his formula. But more often than not, his movies tend to follow a pretty familiar blueprint. And that blueprint has earned the director and producer lots of commercial success as well as a few vocal detractors.
As you might expect, Bay’s new film “Ambulance” follows his blueprint to the letter. In fact, in some ways it plays like a celebration of Bay’s formula, even throwing in a couple of references to the director’s past movies. And then there are those Bay visual flourishes which he comes back to in the movie over and over and over again, almost to the point of overkill. So you could say this is Bay at his most indulgent. Yet despite all of that, his no-nonsense approach, three strong performances, and the central hook of the story gel together for something that’s quite entertaining.
Danny (Jake Gyllenhaal) and Will (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) are childhood friends and adoptive brothers who, despite their sincere love for each other, have gone down very different paths in life. Will joined the military and served in Afghanistan. Now he’s back home where he has a baby boy with his wife (Moses Ingram). The charismatic Danny has followed in their father’s footsteps and runs a criminal outfit. Though not as unhinged as their late father, Danny has his hands in a lot of bad things.
With Amy in desperate need of a life-saving surgery and his military insurance refusing to cover it, Will approaches Danny for a loan. But rather than a measly $230,000, the ever persuasive Danny convinces Will to join him and his crew on a job to swipe $32 million from a bank in downtown Los Angeles. What could possibly go wrong, right? Well, everything.
The heist goes bad as cops converge on bank and a ferocious “Heat” inspired gunfight breaks out. With the rest of their crew dead, Danny and Will scramble to find a way out. They end up hijacking an ambulance where in the back EMT Cam Thompson (Eiza González) fights to save the life of a police officer (Jackson White) who Will mistakenly shot during the chaos. What follows is nearly two hours of mostly kinetic, high-energy action across LA as Will, Danny and their two hostages try to shake the dogged LAPD and the FBI.
One thing about a Michael Bay movie, it’s going to look good. The visuals in “Ambulance” don’t disappoint and they certainly add to the film’s energy. At the same time, they eventually lose some of their kick as Bay goes back to the same camera tricks over and over again. In some cases, he repeats them so often it gets a little silly. But if you can get past that, there are plenty of exhilarating sequences that throw plausibility out the window and ratchets down on the high-octane excitement. And it doesn’t take long to get it all started. Bay doesn’t waste time on build up. He knows the kind of movie he’s making and he makes no apologies. Within 15 minutes the action has taken center stage.
Gyllenhaal, Abdul-Mateen II, and González make for a lively trio. Their performances are dramatically different yet their chemistries are pretty seamless. Gyllenhaal is the most entertaining and he plays his scenes as if he were high on caffeine. Abdul-Mateen II adds an emotional level and brings the silliness down a notch. Meanwhile González gets her moments, but I wish she was given a few more. Garret Dillahunt adds to the fun playing a tenacious LAPD captain willing the chase the brothers all over the city if necessary.
There are some weird swings at humor (a few land, many don’t) and the movie begins to run out of gas well before the two-hour mark. But there are some good twists that keep this from being your conventional heist-turned-chase movie. For example, I liked the idea of having the wounded cop in the ambulance which ties the police’s hands and offers a unique set of challenges. Not all of their strategies make sense. And that’s kinda like the movie as a whole. This really is a case of turning off your brain and just going along for the ride. And sometimes that’s all your looking for in a movie. “Ambulance” is now playing in theaters.